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.
This is insanely depressing. Surprisingly, some widows say it to new widows. You’d think they’d know better.
Perhaps it is meant to pose the question, “What is with you widows and flogging this whole grief thing? Why on earth are you still talking about it?” I’m not sure. But if it’s said to a widow within a short time, let’s be conservative and say a year, it’s horrifying.
I met several other young widows after John’s death. Those who were most helpful acknowledged how badly I was hurting and instead of yet another aphorism about Time Healing All Wounds, acknowledged the seismic life change. Some sent me books that had helped them to get through, for which I was deeply grateful. Most just nodded and listened.
The ones that Did Not Help were those who outlined in detail the agony they were still going through. I think that would be easier for me to take now, a year out from the loss, but did these people completely forget what it was like to be newly widowed? Have they forgotten the intensity of feeling you’ll never come up out of this crushing grief? That hope is lost?
I got “fixed up” with one widow a week or so after the funeral. She spent our hour together detailing every moment of her husband’s death. Once she had finished with that, she mournfully spoke about how empty and lonely her life continued to be without the husband. Even her daughters were of little comfort and nothing had changed for her since his death—and it was five years after his death. I could barely stand upright. By the time I escaped it took me days to even consider talking to someone else again.
So I offer up this little prayer:
Please don’t let me do this to someone who is experiencing a new loss. Please help me to offer comfort. Please let new widows know that the bone-crushing grief will get easier to handle although it will not disappear. Help them bear the struggle one small step at a time. Please let me—and others in grief—learn to keep moving forward and embrace love in all its forms. And please let the Mariners have a winning season this year.
The Practical Widow
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.
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 more). Yes, she’s lonely and yes, she’s vulnerable and yes, she’s longing for intimacy and affection. But she wants it from the dead guy. Not you. You’re being a jackass. And not jut a little pathetic.
Love can certainly strike at anytime. I won’t deny that it might be the right thing for someone somewhere. Let’s say it’s right for (and I want to be generous here) perhaps 0.05% of the recently widowed population. You think your odds are that good? Seriously? Okay. But go slowly, give it some time—at least a year—and be aware that what you perceive as signals encouraging your advances might just be your misinterpretation of your friend’s profound grief. In that case, you are doing much, much more harm than good. See above: You’re a jackass.