“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 sometimes obvious. But in the moment whatever it is, there is life. Perhaps a life that is difficult and struggling, but nonetheless it is life and you’re in it. Death? Well, that’s crossing a line from which there is no return. You are here. Then you are not.

My brother died suddenly—completely out of the blue. Alive one minute and dead the next. That was shocking. John died more slowly, tilting at the windmills of bad health from the time he was sixteen, and battling hard for ten days at the end. That was shocking.

They were both shocking losses. Just in different ways.

So if you must say something along these lines, think about how you’re phrasing it. Saying, “I’m so sorry for your loss, what a terrible shock.” is significantly better than telling the widow how she feels vs. how you feel. Just a matter of shifting around a few words. But it makes a world of difference.

Born in 1961. Married in 1990. Widowed in 2007. Blogging in 2009.

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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.