Try not to one-up each other in grief.

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.

“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.

“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 for now. But, someday I hope to dance at your wedding again.” Such a lovely way to say there was hope that love would come around once more. The important aspect of saying this, as opposed to asking about what I’m doing on Saturday night, is the abstract quality of saying love will reappear in its own time. It’s letting me be okay with sorting out what I’ve lost so I can find my way to being open to love again. It’s also a reminder that love from friends is all around me, whether I’m coupled up or not. In a gentle way it was reminding me that true love is resilient, sturdy and will reappear again. Perhaps in a different form, but it will reappear. Her sweet words have stuck with me.

Asking if I’m dating is wondering when I’m going to get back on that horse and dang it, I’m not getting any younger so better get after it. Instead of saying, “take your time, love will wait for you” it’s reminding me that tempus is fugiting and I’d better fluff up the cleavage, put on the heels and get back into the game before I get called the loser.

Is it really so bad to be single? I wouldn’t give up my years of love with John for anything. There were good things and bad, as there are in any relationship. There seem to be good things and bad about being single. Isn’t it okay to just try to be happy, with or without a partner? That’s what I did when we were married, it’s what I’m trying to do now. And if I fall in love again, it’s what I will do with the New Dude. I wouldn’t expect less from anyone.

“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 (my uncle) when he was only 42, would say, “Some things you just have to live through.” That’s very true. Some things you just have to put your head down, lean into and get through. If you love someone and I presume as a sentient person there’s someone you do love, you’re going to face this loss at some point with someone you love. You’ll get through it too. We all do. Just in different ways.

This comment made me feel pretty bad and I can’t really clarify why. I’m sure the speaker was just trying to tell me they admired me and wanted me to know. But it kind of made me feel invisible, since I felt so crushed and lost. I didn’t feel brave in the least. It takes a huge amount of energy just to get through every day after the death. I’m sure she wanted to be supportive and was admiring me getting out in public at all. It just made me feel like I had no one to lean on.

Some things you just have to live through.