As some of you may know I am a widow. I was widowed five years ago on January 2, 2010. It was very sudden and when it was all over I was left alone with a six month old baby. It was a very difficult time, to say the least.
Thursday, July 2 is my wedding anniversary. Jordan and I would have been married for ten years. That six month old will turn six years old a few days after our wedding anniversary.
Lately I have been feeling good about the progress I have made. I’m in therapy (finally) which has helped me a lot in the time I’ve been going. I really believe that almost anyone can benefit from therapy. There’s something very enlightening about having a totally impartial outside opinion.
But this is not about how awesome therapy is. That’s for another time. This post is harkening back to that terrible time; those first few months to a year after Jordan died. The things some people said to me….I didn’t even know how to respond.
I’ve been reading an excellent book called Widows Wear Stilettos by Carole Brody Fleet. She’s dedicated an entire chapter to the awkward things people say to widows, all of which she heard herself. I too have heard a few doozies. Below are things not to say or discuss with widows.
Now before I go into this, I know that many of these people meant well. They were trying to offer comfort or simply didn’t know what to say. If that is the case, if you don’t know what to say or find yourself about to say something below, may I suggest, don’t say anything at all. Offer a hug or a pat on the shoulder. If you feel compelled to speak stick with something like “I can’t imagine what you’re going through” or “I don’t know what to say.” Those are both safe bets. What follows will, at best, make a widow gringe inside and at worst, make them shout at you hysterically.
The thing I hated, HATED, to hear more than anything, “God needed him in heaven.” To those people I silently nodded and held my tongue. I know it was supposed to be a comfort. He’s in heaven. God needed him! Of course! How silly of me to think that perhaps his family needed him more. Now everything is great! Now I know that God really, really, urgently needed him right away at 29 years old. Thus leaving me a single mother to my six month old son. Perfect sense, excellent.
The next worse was “I understand how you feel” or “I know how you feel.” Whenever someone said that to me I wanted to shout at them “Oh yeah?! When did your spouse die?!” Unless you too are a widow never ever, ever say this, because you absolutely can not know what it feels like to lose a spouse until it happens to you.
“You’ll meet someone else” or “God will bring you another husband.” Yeah, I didn’t want someone else. I wanted Jordan. So hearing this didn’t cheer me up. It made me angry. When I think about it now I get even more annoyed because dating. Totally. Sucks. It’s not fun and I’m tired of it and I shouldn’t have to be doing it. I’d found the person I had wanted to grow old with.
“On the bright side I got to wear this new black (insert item of clothing here).” Yes, people actually said this to me at the funeral of my husband. Just don’t say this. It is beyond tactless.
“Oh hey, I was wondering are you still coming to my wedding?” Again, yes some people thought asking me about their wedding at the funeral was a great idea. Honestly, the last thing I wanted to think about was watching two people dedicate their lives to each other for all eternity when my eternity with my spouse ended up being about six years total. So maybe don’t ask about RSVP’s during a time of intense sorrow.
Carole listed a couple things she heard in her book that I think a lot of young widows probably hear. I didn’t personally hear them, so I’ll just quote from her book. It seems like these would be pretty common statements.
“‘At least you were prepared’ or, ‘It’s not like it wasn’t expected’ or, ‘At least you had time together to prepare (you’ll generally hear this if your spouse has died after a long illness).”*
To paraphrase what Carole says, being prepared is different from the reality of the death. You can’t ever be prepared for someone to die.
“‘At least he didn’t suffer.’ (You’ll hear this if your spouse dies after a short illness, accident or tragedy.” That made things easier for him…not you.”*
After a few months of Jordan being gone I started hearing new bits of advice to help me along in my journey.
“Are you over Jordan?” Um, what? No, no I will never be over Jordan. Never. There will be a new normal, but there will always be a tear in my heart that is Jordan shaped and no matter who I meet in the future, there is no replacing him. I think a better question to ask “Is your heart open for a new love?” And the answer to that is yes it is.
“What do you think Jordan would think of what you’re doing?” Well now, I wouldn’t know the answer to that would I? Because he’s not here to offer an opinion. To be totally frank his opinion hardly matters. He’s not experiencing what I am. I do know one thing though and that is that he would want me to be happy and move forward. I think that’s just what I’m doing.
It’s very difficult to know what to say to a young widow. I am one and I’m still not sure what the best thing to say is. A young widow can go from zero to sixty in seconds, especially right after the death of their spouse. They are on a roller coaster ride of emotions, tasks and striving to “get back to normal” when all they want to do is curl up in bed or binge watch Netflix.
There are many ways to help your newly widowed friend, which I will discuss in my next post, but saying anything remotely close to what is listed above is a sure fire way to not help at all. Like I said, stick with a hug and a simple “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
*Widows Wear Stilettos: A Practical and Emotional Guide for the Young Widow By: Carole Brody Fleet and Syd Harriet, Ph.D., Psy.D. New Horizon Press Far Hills, NJ 2009