From Janine - What not to say.....

This post is from Janine (, a fellow widow and contributor to Widow's Voice, who lost her husband Jim. She is an amazing writer and especially mother, and she gave permission to share this. 6 months ago I would have never known her, but now, even though it's a double-edged sword , I'm glad I "know" this amazing survivor.

Even though most of this hits home with me, the parts about the kids obviously cannot. But they still touched me and I hope, if there is a widow reading this, with kids or not, that it helps you through your day, your minute, your second without the person you could never imagine life without.

We widows know that the clock is a cruel housemate.

I am honored to post it here.

OK .... forgive me, but I'm cheating today. I'm copying a post I put on my blog over a year ago ... just a couple of months after Jim died. I've had several requests to post it again, which I did on my blog earlier this year, and I thought I'd post it here, too.
It was a list of the top things that my children and I did NOT need to hear, but did, after Jim died. It's followed by a list of things we did need to hear.
It might not speak for you .... at least not every point, but I would guess that we can all relate to at least a few of them.
Feel free to use this list freely ..... to help those not on this path ..... "get it" a bit better. Not that they can fully "get it", God willing, but I think it's helped many of my friends understand a little.

OK, buckle your seat belts. And please, please, please remember -- I have no memory of who said what. Please don't put that onto me or yourselves. This is not to make ANYONE feel badly. It's just what I've learned and have been told to pass on. I think most of us are doing this for the first time. And like parenting, we don't always get it right the first time.
And, like parenting, this is done in love.

1. This is the most important item and I cannot stress it enough: "I understand." or "I know what you're going through."
No. You. Don't.
You can't. The loss you have suffered is yours and yours alone. It's interesting but every single widow who spoke to me never, ever said those words. My relationship was unique and mine. No one else can possibly understand the depth of pain and despair that I feel.
This brings me to #2 -- which is from my children.
2. "I lost my father, too." Not only does it not help because every relationship is unique, but it also turns the attention to YOU. When you're shaking a mourner's hand at a funeral or a visitation and you say, "I lost my father, too", or "I lost my _______(fill in the blank") then the mourner feels compelled to say, "Oh, I'm so sorry." and the whole reason for the event is lost. Bad, bad, bad idea.
3. "God has a plan." REALLY??? Because at that moment in time, I didn't give a damn. And neither did my children. The plan, whatever it was, sucked.
4. "God must've needed Jim for work in Heaven." Again, REALLY????? I don't think so -- God seemed to be doing quite alright on His own. WE needed Jim here. We STILL need Jim here.
5. "At least he's no longer suffering." Let's get this straight -- Jim wasn't suffering -- at least not until 4:00 a.m. on December 17th. And then he got meds and felt quite relaxed. He would have rather suffered some more and stayed here. And I'm sorry, but being the selfish person that I am, I would have rather had him suffer more and still be here.
6. "This has made me appreciate my dad more." Yes, someone said that to one of the kids.
7. "Merry Christmas."
8. "How was the cruise?" I'm sorry, what?! It sucked. Although that's not we said. We said, "It was O.K." (Note to WV readers: Jim's memorial service was the Saturday before Christmas. The kids and I left on a cruise the next day and "skipped" Christmas."
9. "Call me." This also goes along with "Call me if you need anything." People who are grieving don't usually call. They are just trying to breathe. And they don't know what they need, other than the loved one who is gone. Don't ask me to call. Call me. Come sit with me. Just sit.
10. "How are you?" You really don't want to know, so try not to ask.
11. Also from the kids, "Your dad lovED you very much." They know that he STILL loves them very much.
12. This is one that I really struggled with but I think everyone wants me to be open and very honest here. So here it is:
Try very, very hard to not write a Bible verse on a card. As one of my daughters said, "If you're not a Christian then you look at the card and think 'why the hell would someone write that to me?!' and if you are a Christian you think, 'Why the hell would someone write that to me --- I already know that." The first days are not the time to be reminded of God's love because it doesn't feel like He's very loving.
13. "Hang in there."
14. "This is going to be a very difficult Christmas for you." You think?!!!
15. "What can I do for you?" This goes along with #9. Again, I can't think past the fog in my brain and the pain wracking my body, heart and soul. I have no idea what you can do. This is where the "just sit" comes in. Jewish people "sit shiva" when someone is grieving. They go to their house and just sit. They talk if the griever feels like talking. They don't if she/he doesn't. The important thing is, they are there. Very important.
16. This has also been a difficult one to include but here it is:
"God never gives you more than you can handle." To that I say B.S. I don't agree with that - at - all. God gives us a whole lot of crap that we can't handle. Trust me. And I don't agree with that theology. I read that verse as saying "God won't TEMPT you beyond what you can bear. And when you are TEMPTED He will provide a way out'." The only temptation that I had was the desire to off myself in the early days. But God did give me the loss of Jim -- and it's way more than I can handle. Just because I'm alive doesn't mean I'm handling it. Try to never, ever, ever say that to someone who's lost someone. Ever.
17. "You're young .. you can find love again." There are no words for that one. None.
18. "Trust in God." - when someone gets knocked to the ground by God, there's going to be a trust-issue. Trust me.
19. No one has asked me this directly but I guess some people have worried that I'm on meds and that I joke around about alcohol. Really?! Because even if I were drunk &/or higher than a kite most days --- could you blame me?! And to put everyone's mind at rest (or not -- think what you want to think) - I doubt that I could play tennis, work, write in a blog, or converse with my children if I were drinking every day or taking more than an anti-depressant and a sleeping aid every day (which are both prescribed by my doctor). So I'm not overly depressed and I sleep at night. Find someone else to worry about.
20. And the coup de grace, the ultimate thing I didn't need to hear and the only one I have vividly in my mind and know exactly who said: 'I am the reason Jim was successful. Let me handle your money. You owe me.' --- or something to that effect.

Now, to end on a positive note:

The Things I/We Needed/Need to Hear

1. "There are no words."
2. "You are constantly in my thoughts and prayers."
3. "I am so angry at God."
4. "This sucks."
5. "I love you."
6. "My heart aches for you."
7. "I'm sorry that I never got to know/meet him because he sounds like an incredible man."
8. Any time someone shares a memory of Jim.
9. "Can I come over?"
10. Any time a man cried in front of us. It sounds strange, but we need to know how much Jim meant -- especially to men.

So there you go .... the top things I needed to not hear and need TO hear ..... 20 months ago.
I'm thinking about posting a new list entitled, "The Top Things I Don't Need to Hear, Year 2").
Feel free to add your own comments and tell us what you didn't, or did, need to hear.

Have a great Wednesday.


GingerSnaps said...

GREAT post!!!!!

Kim said...

Thanks Ginger !! Thank you for reading !!

My list will be coming soon !! : )

Robin said...

Incredible, and SO VERY TRUE, post! Thank you so much for sharing!

TexasRaceLady said...

An incredible post by an incredible woman.

Thanks for sharing those words of wisdom.

I must admit, to my shame, that I've been guilty of a few of them.

Anonymous said...

Like Franna, I too have been guilty of some of that. Having recently been on the "loss" side, the second list is wonderful.

And the best part for me was that each loss is unique, each relationship is unique, and don't expect us to reach out to you.
We.Can't.Breath. And when we don't want to go to a big party and be social, leave us at home. There are times we need to be there, alone, and grieving. There will be other parties. Just give me the damn fucking time I need to find my own damn feet.

Well, I guess THAT wasn't on any of the lists, huh?

I didn't mean to make this about me. Please don't take it that way.

Love you, Coz. You too, TRL :)
But you guys knew that already.


Lynda said...

I did something like this after my old manager lost her fiance in a motorcycle accident. One of the things that I hate that people say is, "You'll get over it."

One of the best things I heard was to give someone who lost a loved one a gift card for food. Especially right after someone dies, because people tend to get so much food anyway. And really, who can eat?

Bubblewench said...

Thank you. You know you have come to mean a lot to me over the past few months. And I appreciate you letting me know what YOU need. I know it's hard.

I apologize now if I have said any of those things that sound stupid reading them in this context.


LOVIN7 said...

I think we've probably all said some/most of those things on the first list. But sometimes it's so HARD to know just the right thing to say so we say the ones we've heard before without even thinking about how they sound to the family. Thanks SO much for posting these lists and I hope both of you find some peace. ((HUGS))

Elizabeth said...

Dear Abby told everyone decades ago to never say, "I know how you feel." Because you don't and you never will.

I'd just started to feel comfortable telling people things about myself now that I'm 37 years old. Now, I think I've given my last bit of info. There's too many rules.


Foo said...

I would like to add...never ask, how long are you going to wear your wedding ring for? No joke...someone asked 2 weeks after my husband's death. A year later, maybe if you took off your wedding ring, guys might approach you, you might find someone. Wow...

I know there wasn't anything anyone could say to take the pain away...but it was so nice to know that I had so many people in my life willing to do pretty much anything for me. I lost more friends than I kept, but it sure weeded out the ones that had their own agendas.

Eight years later and I still want to SMACK anyone that says...I know how you feel, so that really did hit home for me.

Sorry that you are dealing with all of the financial yuck that goes along with the death of a spouse, I had some of the same BS. I'm still fighting a seat belt ticket he got the weekend he passed away. Not to mention the IRS on a weekly basis. It just sucks.

Thanks for posting Janine's message and just keep it real Kim...the more you talk about it, the more you will help others.

Hang in there!

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Hi Kim,
It's funny, I still found all the crazy, insensitive, inappropriate things less damaging than the fact that they stayed away. Therefore I always try to emphasize that it's better to MAKE contact even if you are an idiot about it.
When I posted this as advice, there was a lot of disagreement. I guess this is something like a great divide among widows.
Another reminder that we are all different!

Vanessa said...

"You're young, you can/will find someone else" made me want to beat people. Seriously. BEAT THEM. Three-plus years later, it's been replaced by "when are you going to find someone" and other variations on that query, all of which are equally aargh-inducing.

I've had a few people ask to look at my wedding ring (and my husband's wedding ring, which I also wear) but no one has yet asked me when I'm going to stop wearing them. I think it's the I WILL BEAT YOU look I've been practicing.