The Wandering Widow

Observations, Tips and Reckless Truth Telling on the Road Through Grief


What Not To Say

What Not To Say-The Donald Trump Edition. An Open Letter to the President of the United States

A What Not To Say Post

For those of you who have cringed as you’ve realized how badly you put your foot in your mouth when speaking to a widow after reading one of my What Not To Say posts, you may feel a bit better about yourselves. You don’t have an entourage of speech writers and etiquette people who are supposed to help you avoid FUBAR situations like the one that hijacked my feed today. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what was said or in what context. But I know my blood was boiling for Mrs. Sgt. La David Johnson. Ma’am, I wish I could give you the biggest squeezy hug ever given and make it better. I know I can’t. And for that, I am truly sorry.

What I can do is continue to educate people on what not to say to avoid causing further pain to those grieving. So, here goes my official What Not To Say-Donald Trump Edition. An open letter to the President of the United States.

Dear Mr. President:

As a long-time military spouse, and now Widow, I’m in a unique position to help you.

It’s a f@#$%d up sacrifice that military families commit to. Proudly. I will never regret a second of the service I gave my country and know that Dan wouldn’t regret his either, even after he ended up with a messed up disease likely caused by his military service. Yes. We all know what the worst case scenario is. But you don’t EVER say that someone knew what they were signing up for, in any context. Period. No matter who you are or what title you currently hold.

Mr. President, the minute you hear your husband has died, you stop breathing. You stop existing as YOU and watch your entire universe shatter. At that moment, you are a raw wound, and all you need is unconditional love and support. Not platitudes, not rote condolences, just love and support.

Mr. President, my fellow widows and I have been on the receiving end of horribly hurtful comments made by well-meaning individuals who just didn’t know what to say. I have to believe that you didn’t intend to wound Mrs. Johnson further after she and her family just made the ultimate sacrifice, and as she is facing a new battle of her own, one of survival.

Mr. President, I’m not writing to tell you how badly you messed this up. I’m writing to offer my help. Those who have been entrusted to help you in these situations have clearly not been doing their job to the level that you are heeding their guidance. Unfortunately, rewind isn’t an option in real life. So here is a suggestion that you may want to put aside and remember as you sign orders sending our husbands, wives, sons, and daughters into harm’s way.

Mrs. Johnson. I can’t imagine what you are feeling right now. I know that nothing I can say will make any of it better or bring him back. And for that, I am truly sorry. I hold the men and women of our armed forces in the highest regard because they’ve taken on the mantle of protecting our freedoms at their own risk. A risk my own family hasn’t taken, and for that, I am forever grateful. When Sgt. Johnson put his life on the line, it was for all of us. And we all owe him a debt of gratitude. Our country owes you and your family for the sacrifices you have made and will continue to make going forward. Thank you is wholly inadequate, but I don’t have any other words to express the appreciation of our thankful nation.

Mr. President, you still have the opportunity to make this right with Mrs. Johnson. Call her. Tell her you screwed up. That in your role as President, this is the hardest thing you have to do. Not because you don’t want to do it, but because you wish it weren’t necessary. Tell her that it’s because you wish that all of them would come home to us. Ask her to forgive you for causing her pain due to your discomfort. Don’t make it a photo op, or press event. She may not want to hear it. Say it anyway. She may yell at you. Take it without arguing or getting defensive. Because when that call ends, you get to go back to your life and your intact family. She doesn’t.

Mr. President, part of me doubts you will ever even see this. Or if you do, that you won’t care. But if you do, please feel free to call me if you’d like to discuss this further or need any advice going forward.

The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.




What Not To Say–Take 573

Dear Friends and Family of W’s:

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.


The Wandering Widow

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