“I’m sorry for your loss.” Say it loud, say it proud.

I can't emphasize enough my gratitude for friends and acquaintances who say, even now, "I'm sorry for John's loss. I miss him. The world is a smaller place without him. Good God he was a piece of work." Whatever it was, each person who says it brings John back to life for a moment and brings me closer to seeing that the love we shared lives on, even if he does not. That's why it is important to say it.

“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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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 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.