One of the many lessons you learn in business is never to say, “I understand,” because you can’t. You can’t understand where someone is coming from unless it’s happened to you. While many of the grieving lament that people just can’t understand what we’re going through, the truth is WE DON’T WANT YOU TO.
As lonely as grief can be, we don’t want you to understand how awful it is. Because the only way you could possibly get it is to have gone through it yourself, and I wouldn’t wish that pain on my worst enemy.
When my friends, who lost their daughter a few years ago, told me they couldn’t understand what I was going through, I argued they were wrong. That they had been through the horribly wrong things that people say, the “friends” impatient for the old you to be back, the misery, the loss, the pain. Mike gently said no, there was no way they could ever understand. That while they mourned the loss of their daughter, she didn’t live with them. That while there was a huge void in their family, it was nothing like the constant void I now lived with: my empty bed, my now always clean bathroom counters, my suddenly clear schedule now that I wasn’t nursing my patient 24/7, the silence.
I was still in shock over losing Dan, so I didn’t understand what he was saying. I do now. There is a reason W’s gravitate to each other. There is no need to explain or justify your feelings. We all, unfortunately, understand. It’s why our hearts stop, and we hold our breath when we hear one of you has joined this f#$%^$d up club. It’s why we reach out to you, despite knowing we can’t say or do anything that will make a difference. Except, maybe, to let you know that you aren’t alone.
So when we tell you that you just don’t understand, it’s okay. It’s good that you don’t understand. We hope you never understand. So don’t argue that you do. Don’t get defensive. Just say that we’re right, you don’t understand, but that you are here with us anyway because you care.
Someone asked me recently why I only write for Widows and not a larger group of the grieving. This was part of a conversation on why The W Club is Widows only and doesn’t include Widowers or parents who had lost a child. It was an interesting question, and I had to think about it a bit.
Here’s the deal. I don’t write only for Widows. I write for myself. I write for other widows because we share a common story and we are part of the same tribe. I write for friends and family of W’s who are desperate to help and need insight. I write for my fellow grief journey travelers which by the way, includes all of us.
At some point in our lives, we will all experience loss. Maybe it’s not the death of a loved one. It could be due to divorce, the loss of a job, a pet, or a childhood dream. The point is we all experience loss. These losses impact us whether we want them to or not. We all grieve differently, but life ALWAYS comes with loss. If we can accept that loss is inevitable, it can free us to revel in all the other glorious live now moments life brings us.
With a few exceptions, the advice (or rants) I write aren’t Widow specific and can apply to anyone who is grieving. I’m not a professional, so can only share my experiences about what I’ve found helpful or harmful. As terrifying as it has been, I’ve chosen to shine the light on the dark side of grief that most of us hide from the world out of a sense of propriety or shame. Why would I open myself up to that kind of scrutiny and vulnerability? Because I know how alone it felt in the darkness, and I’ll do my damnedest to make sure no one else has to feel that. And if I can help just one person figure out how to reach out and grab the hand of their loved one who is grieving and not let go, it helps me find meaning in Dan’s horrible death. If I can help one widow avoid the internal dialog about taking her life, it makes my struggle worth it. And if one person who is grieving, regardless of the reason why, remembers that there are support options out there for them, being open and vulnerable was worth it.
So no, I don’t write only for Widows. I just happen to be one.
Recently someone said something to me that was so insensitive and thoughtless it caught me off guard. Although maybe that’s because I’ve lowered my guard in recent months.
Most people mean well but say the wrong thing simply because we are a grief phobic society and aren’t taught what to say or do in this situation. I’m posting this in the interest of education so you don’t have to cut off your foot to remove it from your mouth. And just so you know, most W’s will just nod and let it go, even though you just hurt them deeply.
So, for what feels like the millionth time, here are some examples of what NOT to say to a W:
You must really miss him and think about him all the time and wish he was here to talk to. Okay Captain Obvious, I’m sure this is just an example of words bypassing your brain to exit your mouth, but please take a moment to think about what you are actually saying. Talk about rubbing lemon juice in that healing wound.
Wow, has the last year been hard for you? Seriously? The answer, of course, is yes. But why would you ask someone that, especially if they are out and about? Some days it’s a real struggle to be with people, and this is the reason why.
Do you have plans to date again? This was actually said to me shortly after diagnosis while I was still married to a very alive, and fighting to stay alive, husband. WTF!
God has a plan. Um, I try really hard to be understanding, but F@#$ you! It’s really best to keep your useless pseudo-religious platitudes to yourself.
Do not ask for details of his final moments. WTF! She’s reliving it anyway without your help, don’t make it worse by dredging up the worst moment in her life.
Oh my God. What will you do? NOT HELPFUL! Please count to 10 before speaking to give yourself time to evaluate the words you are going to say.
Dan would/wouldn’t want you to__________________. Really? How the F would you know? If you have a phone line to him and haven’t shared it before now, this normally peace loving woman will cut you.
Whew! No strong emotions there. Nope! In the interest of helping you help your W, here are some examples of what TO say:
I wish I could take away the pain.
I know nothing I can say or do will make this better, but I’m coming over anyway. Only come over if you have the close relationship that allows for this. Coming over to gawk at the train wreck when you are only acquaintances falls under the WTF category.
Please let me be the one to throat punch the first person who says “God has a plan.” I clearly have some unresolved issues with this one, which should indicate how many times I heard it. I’m still not sure I’ll ever step foot in a church again.
I love you, and I’m here WITH you. WITH you, not FOR you, there is a difference.
Nothing. Just be there in silence.
Fellow W’s, I’d love to hear some of the other helpful things people have said. And feel free to share the asinine comments too. I’ll be happy to commiserate with you.
I love my guy friends. Like bulls in a china shop they tread on delicate topics my lady friends won’t even acknowledge exist. Lately, they’ve been entertaining me with their dating advice, especially since it’s all over the board. Here are the ten that keep me laughing the most. I hope you’re as easily amused as I am.
Guys aren’t that smart, don’t give them too much credit.
Lower your standards, get on Tinder and find Mr. Right Now.
Find a Duke or Earl when you’re in Europe. Make sure he owns a castle.
Be careful of guys who want to take advantage of widows.
Guys are afraid of widows so don’t lead with that.
Make sure you (conceal) carry when you go out.
Don’t trust any guy you meet in a bar.
You’re not going to meet anyone if you don’t leave your house.
Do you remember when my grief counselor told me that if I stopped going to our favorite places or doing the things we loved, it would actually make Dan disappear and not help me feel better? Well, Dan and I had been planning this Harry Potter bucket list trip to Europe for years. We never got farther than planning and dreaming, but we knew that SOMEDAY we were going to go. When Dan realized he wasn’t going to be able to make the trip, he made me promise to go anyway. That promise was one of the many gifts he gave me to help me get through my grief journey.
So I booked the trip and headed out solo. I figured if I were having a bad day I wouldn’t have to mess up anyone else’s itinerary. If I were by myself I wouldn’t have to explain why I was crying or laughing as I thought about him and wished he was there with me. And I underestimated the amount of crying I would do: saying goodbye to my dog; in the airport bar; in the boarding area; on the plane…you get the idea. I lost track of how many times I broke down in tears, but crying myself to sleep alone on our dream vacation became the norm. It’s a good thing I got over crying in public a long time ago, because there was plenty of that too.
But I wasn’t really solo. Dan was there with me, watching out for me and pulling strings. I’m sure he intervened when I was able to get tickets for the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play, despite it being sold out for a year. And I give him full credit for the unseasonable picture perfect weather every single day that made Ireland look like the tropics! And he sent me little messages to remind me he was there and I was going to be okay.
And I met amazing people, did amazing things, saw amazing things, drank (a lot) of amazing whisk(e)y, and the night before I was supposed to go to Scotland I had a full meltdown and started packing to come home. I’m not sure why that was the trigger, other than visiting Scotland was what we’d talked about the most. We both have Scottish ancestry, and there was just something about Scotland that called to us.
So there I was in my hotel room a blubbering mess trying to figure out what to do. My little sister convinced me to stay, and I’m so glad she did. Scotland was magic. Somehow just crossing the border changed everything. I let go. I felt like I’d come home. It was everything I’d expected…windy, rugged, and beautiful. I’d actually dreamed about Loch Lomond a few months before taking the trip. Imagine my surprise when I got there and recognized it as the place I’d been dreaming of. And as I was standing outside in the highlands, cold wind whipping my hair around, I was laughing like a crazy woman. At that moment, I remembered. I remembered what it felt like to feel joy-pure joy! And happy. And at peace. And with hope for the future. It was like those highland winds ripped off all the grief and survivor guilt baggage I’d been carrying around and I was suddenly weightless. Dramatic, I know, but I can’t think of any other way to describe it.
And here’s the big shocker.
I met someone!
Me. I met me without the weight of the world on my shoulders–the me that is going to not only survive but thrive in this new reality. I met the me that can cry and laugh at the same time and still enjoy life–the me that can look fear and loss in the eye and keep going. I met the me that was the wild crazy laughing woman in the highlands. And I think Dan somehow knew that would happen and that’s why he made me promise to go.
Taking this trip was terrifying, but I’m so glad I did it. And I can’t wait to go back.
In my earlier Table For One post, I discussed not waiting around for someone to invite us out. Widowhood doesn’t mean having to hide out until you have someone to go out with. That has hangry written all over it. I just completed our big bucket list trip in Europe and encountered a whole new table for one scenario that I couldn’t wait to share with you. Mostly because it’s so bad it’s comical.
There are many things Europe does better than we do, but taking care of solo diners isn’t one of them. Or at least not solo female travelers who like to venture off the beaten path. I don’t mind dining at the bar, but sometimes a W just wants to enjoy a lovely meal at an actual table. After spending three weeks across the pond, I was horrified and then amused at what would be offered. It almost became a game to see how bad it could get. My favorites include:
The hideous corner table where I was made to face the freaking corner like a naughty five year old.
The “it’s just you?” when asking for a table, followed by the big sigh.
The quick dragging away of the offensive “extra” chair.
Being ignored as soon as my food was delivered. DO NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT must be part of the training manual.
Sadly, one downside of traveling solo means there was no one to capture the many WTF faces I tried very hard to control.
There were some notable exceptions to the rule, my favorite being Hams Hame Pub and Grill just outside of St. Andrews Old Course. This lovely pub was clean and spacious and the staff was lovely. It was all “Madam” this and “Madam” that. Madam could sit anywhere she damn well wanted and received lots of smiles and attention by the staff. Madam left feeling like a princess and not an outcast to be hidden away. Madam likey. Check out Hams Hame if you are ever in St. Andrews. Excellent food, great whisky options and a beautiful staff with amazing service.
So, my Dear W’s, keep trying until you find a place you like that makes you feel like Madam and not an embarrassment. And remember-nobody puts baby in the corner. Not even in Europe.