Yes, this gets said to new widows. I’m always temped to answer, “Are you offering some more?”
But that doesn’t get either of us anywhere. Remember, the most likely subtext is, “I know this is a huge change in your life and suddenly your income has dropped by half. I hope that it does not adversely affect you. I hope you’re still secure enough and you don’t have that additional worry hanging over you during this difficult time.” That or they are just nosyparkers scouring for idle gossip.
Good intentions aside, it’s simply not a question to ask. Unless you had that kind of relationship with the couple before one of them died and you would sit around together talking about your respective incomes and savings investment plans. Even then, it’s still not a question you should be asking. My estate lawyer told me hair-raising stories of other widows who discovered their spouses had secret credit cards and accounts maxed out to tens of thousands of dollars. Fascinating, but still none of my business.
I also had more than one neighbor come by the house after John died. (Neighbors, no less. Not even strangers!) I thought to offer condolences. Silly me. After a short while, they pulled out their business cards—they were Realtors! And wanted my listing. It’s like a call went out, “We Have Widow! She’ll be selling soon!” Sadly for them, I had no intention of moving. It’s the equivalent of ambulance chasing—it’s hearse chasing.
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.
It’s not like they’re going to do anything about it. Why give them the satisfaction of gossip. Let them make up their own.
Especially shortly after the death. Later, please let’s give it six months at least, a year if you can stand it. Please don’t think you’re making me feel better because I’m not the only one in mourning. Please hold your tongue, even if just for a little while.
Death happens all around us and depending on our age and situation, it happens more or less often. You very well might have experienced a recent loss. A great one perhaps. But don’t let that be the first thing that pops out of your mouth. It does indeed help to share experiences of loss and to let the bereaved know that others have walked this path and there’s light up ahead. I don’t mean to overshadow that. However, be sure to let your expressions of sympathy for the bereaved go before your eagerness to talk about your own losses. It’s a matter of timing.
Often the newly bereaved just don’t have the psychic energy to take on sympathy for others. It’s simply outside their ability at the time. At first, when the newly bereaved are still in shock trying to understand what has happened, sometimes it can be worse to realize there’s so much death and sorrow out there. A friend does not have to be Little Mary Sunshine, but you also don’t need to be the Messenger Of Doom.
Concerning John’s death, it took me a long time to have it sink in that John’s friends were also mourning his death along with me. It just seemed oppressive to have so much grief myself to even consider the depth of others grief. That they were grieving as well may seem obvious now, but at the time it felt the whole world was sad. The darkness was everywhere. I could see that others were affected by his death, but I didn’t empathize with them right away. It took some time.
That all said, even if you are the newly bereaved, letting someone else talk about their loss can help you out. It keeps you from having to publicly expose your pain yet again. It gives you a chance to be the person who offers comfort for a change. And, since you are keenly aware of what that comfort can mean, it lets you pay it forward just a little bit. You’d be surprised at how much it will help you to feel better. It takes it off of your shoulders and lets someone else carry it for a while. It’s part of rejoining life.
The 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 waiting for everyone else to violate. Traps are freshly baited and ready to snap 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.