“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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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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Try not to one-up each other in grief.

Most important thing to remember for everyone concerned: During the week or so around the death, every raw emotion is splayed out on the surface ready for everyone else to violate. Traps are freshly baited and waiting at every turn. It doesn't take much to turn a thoughtless comment into an inferno. It's what makes this so hard for all of us. So let's all take a breath and try to be kinder to one another, shall we? My Death Is Better Than Your Death is not a game any of us need to play.

You didn’t make her cry.

The death makes her cry. The loss and the loneliness and the fog that’s blocking the future: that’s just some of what makes her cry. You didn’t do it. Ok, well, maybe you did. You might have kicked it off. You might have blurted out something that was terribly wrong, no matter how well meaning you were. I’m hoping to help you out in the Not Starting The Waterworks  department through this blog. Believe me, she’s trying hard to hold it together. She doesn’t want to cry publicly anymore than you want to stand there and watch it.

For heaven’s sake. Just don’t hit on the new widow.

Do I really need to outline this one? Do I have to say it out loud? Apparently, yes. Because it happens. So here it is. Do Not: consider this the perfect time, now the pesky husband is dead and out of the way, to make your move and declare your everlasting love. Or bring that crush you’ve been hiding out of the closet. Or your hope for a torrid affair. Whatever’s going through your head—either one of them—keep it to yourself. There’s several reasons why: (simple decency being one of them, to me the most obvious but let’s explore some

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“You were prepared for his death, but I was shocked!”

I was supposed to warn you? Honestly, someone said this to me at a party. For a minute or two, I was speechless. Did they seriously think that I was “prepared”? And that I wasn’t shocked by his death? This is a personal pet peeve: the idea that you could be “prepared” for death. I heard a radio show on hospice care a few weeks ago, and a social worker said, “There is no dying. There is living. And there is dead.” That very much resonated with me. During a prolonged terminal illness, it’s undeniably miserable and the outcome is

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“When are you going to start dating again?”

When I’m ready, I promise we’ll both know. Until then, don’t worry about it. I’m learning to be single again and that’s not such a bad thing. Well, okay, sometimes it’s perceived that way. See “Widows and Gays Table” post. Perhaps some of my resentment is my surprise in finding out how frantic people are to see me coupled. There’s a great deal of generous love behind their question, they’d like to see me happy again and what’s better happiness than being in love? Good point. When lamenting being asked this question, one friend told me, “Don’t worry about dating

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“You’re so brave. I could never go through something like this.”

I know you mean well, but try not to say this out loud. I’m not being brave. And I am most certainly not “the Merry Widow”. Brave was making my marriage work despite his many affairs and through the worsening disabilities we both faced. What I’m facing now is merely getting through this terrible event. Do not mix bravery with having to go through what got thrown at me. Do not mistake me enjoying myself in a social situation with my broken heart. Two different things. Believe me, I’d turn tail and run if I could. My grandmother, who had lost a son

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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.