“Did he leave you enough money?”

In many forms, the question does get asked. Instead of the clever quips I would later come up with (at 3:00 a.m. after the opportunity had long past) I generally answered, "Thank you, I'm doing okay." I figured that was generic enough and they just wanted to know that I was alright.

“I just got divorced so I know how you feel.”

Yes, it’s hard to go through a divorce. Yes, it hurts. But it’s not the same. This gets said surprisingly often to new widows. The fundamental difference, even if the divorce happened out of the blue and without your approval—you’ve got a live person to be angry at, to rail against, to work out the final details with. While I’m generalizing here and everyone’s situation is different, I expected my marriage to go on. Then, it was over. And I could not even pretend I had options. It. Was. Over. Let me assure you that John and I did not

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“If there’s anything you need, let me know.”

Oh, I could go on about this one for pages and pages. I could write involved masters dissertations and multiple doctoral theses on the subject. You’ve said it. I’ve said it. We’ve all said it. It’s pretty much the standard Thing To Say. So I’m putting it in the “Don’t” category, right? Well, yes and I’m also putting it in the “Do” category.  You want desperately to do something for your friend, to help them through this difficult time, to help yourself with your own sorrow. And you want to do something that is genuinely needed, that matters and that

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I’m also a… what’s the word?

My oldest brother died on May 23, 2007, six months before John died. Just out of the blue. Existing one minute, not existing the next. No one saw it coming, most likely least of all him. Turned out his heart just stopped. He was a big man and he did have a big heart in every sense of the word, but we all certainly thought it would be ticking a lot longer than this. He was taking his morning shower and simply. dropped. dead. There’s no term for “survivor of a sibling” like there is “survivor of a spouse”. Also,

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Always go to the funeral

This applies to any friendship on any level. It’s something that is not that hard to do but has enormous impact. It means a lot to the widow. It’s enormously soothing to see a physical manifestation that someone’s life really mattered. It reinforces community. Most importantly, it tells the widow that she is not alone, there are people who genuinely care from immediate family to casual friendships. It says there is a web of support out there. It’s deeply humbling and enormously reassuring. It matters. It’s maybe two hours out of your day. Do it. You don’t have to say

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One more thing…

How else do I know what hurts and what helps? Because not only were they done to me… I learned through this process that I am certain to have done the very same "Don't" things to others at some point along the way. If you're one of them, I am genuinely sorry. I'm trying to learn.