“Well he never believed in God so now that he’s dead, I guess he knows the truth,” said the religious man. And so began the litany of awkward, insensitive, and of course ‘well-meaning’ condolence comments in reference to my husband’s suicide, that I would have to endure in addition to the constant vomiting and perpetual shaking of my hands for the next year.
Four days later it would be, “Well I can always take you out to dinner next weekend; I clean up nice” as another religious man rubbed my back a little too long for my comfort level during the obligatory, ‘hug-the-widow’ show that took place at the buffet table near the entrance of the reception.
My husband shot himself. Casseroles and hugs for everyone!
“You’ll remarry. You’re so pretty and young!”
Because if I were ugly and old I wouldn’t get that luxury?
“I just want you to know that I don’t blame you at all. It was his choice to shoot that gun.”
Thanks for reminding me that everyone else does indeed blame me.
“How are you?”
Fucking fabulous, thanks.
“I’m here for you”
Except for you won’t be about three seconds after the funeral reception when you return to your own life and decided that ‘here for you’ means occasionally liking my social media posts.
“He’s in a better place”
No he’s not. He was an atheist that denied the existence of God up until his final breath. I heard his final breath on the phone as he shot himself; trust me, he’s not in your version of a ‘better place’.
“His death happened for a reason”
Yes. The reason is, that when a bullet enters the body at point blank range, it kills you.
“I know exactly how you feel, when my great Aunt Agnes died…..”
Yep. That’s the same thing.
“Why did he kill himself?!”
While I appreciate your nosiness I’m gonna decline that question for now and ask that you please do not speak to me again until you have adequately researched suicide and mental illness. Idiot.
“I’m praying for you”
Great! While you’re at it, please make sure to tell God I no longer believe in him. Thanks.
What do all of these questions and statements have in common? None of them brought me comfort, and about half of them aggravated my already indescribable pain.
These people were not insensitive assholes (well except maybe the first two men I mentioned), they were just uneducated in the true needs of those who are in mourning. Years and years ago when I was normal, I too was guilty of using some of these cute little grief catch phrases. I am guilty in my past life of asking things I should never have asked and making promises to mourners that I never intended on keeping (Call me anytime of the day or night and I will be there for you!). I have said these phrases to children who have lost grandparents, and I have said them to Grandparents that have lost siblings. Most regretful of all though, I have said these things to widows. And then, I became one at the age of thirty-one.
Now that I’m living this experience I know better, and so, I do better; and doing better to me means spreading awareness of how to help those in mourning so they are not further injured on top of their life-long grief. I have talked to hundreds of widows in the last few years through social media and in person and we all mostly agree that the three things every widow/er needs you to say to them are:
- Nothing…followed by a statement about how you are not going to be saying anything. At all costs avoid words. Never underestimate the power of shutting the hell up, especially early-on. The only exception is if you want to acknowledge your commitment to silence by saying, “There really are no words for what has happened to you.” Or “I don’t know what to say” or, “If there were word in existence to comfort you, I would say them.”
- Nothing….followed by validation. If you are ever lucky enough to be the person a widow comes to, to vent, you have one job and one job only: to validate them. You can validate them through listening and nodding in silence with lots of eye contact and attentive body language, or you can validate them by saying things like, “Absolutely! This is not fair and you have every right to be angry” Do not offer unsolicited advice. Ever. More often than not, when people come to talk to you, they are not seeking answers, they simply want to be heard and understood. Let them know that every feeling they have is being heard and that they are not crazy.
- Nothing….followed by action. Yes, food and money in those early weeks are helpful. Do that. But also, be aware that grief is a life-long process and helping someone who is grieving should also be. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Two years after the funeral deliver (or have delivered) a meal on a school night. Find out when their wedding anniversary is and take them out for a margarita. Show up to their child’s baseball game. Five years (or ten or twenty) later randomly call on a Sunday and see if they need anything picked up from the store. Action.
Early on in my widowhood I could not identify my needs. I could barely identify which shoes were mine and which shoes belonged to my then, seven year old son. I am forever grateful for the ones who knew my needs and still fulfill those needs for me now, almost three years later. I try my best to pay it forward with all of you who come to me and share your horrible stories of loss on facebbok and instagram, but I wish I could do more. I wish I could respond to every message and read every facebook comment, but I can’t. I will keep writing though, and hopefully this is enough to help you see that you are not alone. You are understood. Your feelings are valid and important. Widowhood sucks.
Love to you all,
© Copyright 2017 Michelle Miller