There are no magic words to say to us and it’s not your job to comfort us … but the best thing I’ve learned is just simply listening to us —while not comparing pain such as the loss of a pet or a 95 year old grandparent —unless widowed too. For those of us who haven’t lost children, we don’t compare the loss of our spouse as the same exact experience of losing a child — and that’s okay… it’s okay to find a common ground but choose your moments and don’t make it the same exact thing. It isn’t. Lives are drastically changed every moment of the day for the rest of our lives, — your losses and your pain is valid but it hurts us to compare.
Now we know it’s really awkward to see us or small talk with us and often we are in utter shock for some time and can’t predict how our personalities alter over the day to day, month to month, year to year trying to clumsily, painfully cobble a new strange foreign life together. You don’t need to make it better because no-one and nothing can. Part of life is suffering and part of life is death. We understand we can’t change that.
It also hurts many of us to hear it is a part of “God’s plan”. Or that the person ripped from us is “watching over us”. That is a particularly cruel one for me, very creepy, and feels like a lie. Most widowed people develop stress and trauma and an almost suicidal level of long term survivors guilt. We question and over analyze every choice we make. So telling us we are being watched only compounds the grief of thinking we are being judged while we make ourselves get out of bed every day. It makes us often think we are hurting the one person we don’t want to ever hurt, and every decision we make no matter how banal seems so significant and we have no way of knowing if they’d approve.
Unless you know without a doubt your loved one or friend truly believed certain religious ideas declaring to them they’re waiting for them in “heaven” or experiencing the “glory of god consciousness” or that they’re “lucky because they get to reincarnate” — these are all loaded and arrogant statements and they are not comforting to someone in an existential crisis — even if it is temporary.
You don’t have to be perfect and we won’t blame you for not fixing it. Just offer acknowledgment of how huge the loss is or what you can’t imagine what they’re going through or sorry they lost their person, etc … even connecting how much they liked your person or some special quality of theirs or moment they shared is often very welcome… and aside from the super raw beginning days and weeks … as a little time passes … we often love sharing things about our person. It keeps their memory alive, it brings back reminders of love. It keeps us going. And sometimes we just want to feel normal again and be in the moment. See how we lead the conversation initially and proceed from there and from your intuition. Most of the time a quick connection, a quick moment to say something about how special they were or would enjoy this moment is enough to help us.
We know it’s so weird and uncomfortable but avoiding us all the time or making it like we don’t exist anymore is also quite common and especially alienating at the most isolating time of our lives.
We appreciate acknowledging loss but also not being forgotten or even socially shunned. It happens a lot. Even by family. Even by best friends. We often become like leper’s. In other countries it is even worse.
I know it’s confusing and difficult to navigate but reaching out sometimes and also understanding that sometimes we can’t do social stuff for a while because we are insomniac, sick often, and so emotionally and physically exhausted or feel too fragile or edgy to party. Also this fuels the tremendous guilt we grapple with.
Please don’t share your personal judgement on HOW we are grieving or HOW LONG we should grieve or tell us to “move on” or “chin up” or “be positive”.
Obviously self destruction and self pity long term is not healthy but when you express these things you sound callous, cruel, and frankly shallow as hell.
Please don’t complain about your living partner or spouse or children in the first year or so with new widows. Be careful even with long term widows and widowers, but really the new ones especially. It may seem like you are trying to find a common ground to commiserate with our pain, but it just comes off as ungrateful and callous. What we’d give to switch places, even for the worst moments.
Please understand your pain or annoyances no matter how big or small are valid and this isn’t about who is the biggest sufferer… it is just our entire world and dreams and philosophy of life has blown up and most of the time we just hurt so badly and so deeply and feel so utterly alone and it is really hard to feel passionate about anything or think any problem is a big deal after just constantly wishing our partner would be able to live longer and just breathe air and experience happiness … we feel like failures because we couldn’t save them and we feel the world and life are so unjust because they were robbed of more life…
Often it takes a long time to shake off the numbness we gained in that human ability to protect one’s self and we think so much about death and the death of hope and the death of love that it’s really hard to feel anything is meaningful. And that damn guilt. Every laugh is a pang of guilt afterwards. We have hourly silent inner battles with our consciences over the smallest things. Eventually when we feel not totally constantly choked and gasping for air with the black cloak of death wrapped around us it still takes a while to adjust to life again.
And many people always have an opinion on how we should grieve or how we shouldn’t grieve publicly and no-one should discuss death as though it is catching and contagious and if you just avoid the topic or the bereaved you and your loved ones will avoid it.
And for the love of God STOP ASKING PEOPLE HOW THEIR SPOUSE DIED.
In your desperate need to find out what got them so you can somehow magically avoid it you are asking someone to RELIVE THE TRAUMA AND PAIN AND ENVISION THEIR BODY …
It could be a natural cause that makes the spouse smart with survivors guilt because they didn’t check on them sooner or make them go to the doctor. It could be a long and drawn out medical condition that they don’t want to recall in detail to you. It could be a suicide which has so much stigma and obviously brings up a host of agonies. It could be a sudden undiagnosed natural cause or a terrible accident. Maybe they were alone and it kills them a little more inside each time they recall it? Maybe they passed in front of them and they have PTSD from it every time they recount it? Maybe they were murdered. Can you imagine how utterly awful that would be to recount to people who if they don’t know probably weren’t super close to begin with to be in the know about the circumstances. Maybe it was an accidental overdose, which also has huge stigma and is so painful to recount, and brings the fear of tarnishing the reputation of the lost person. Maybe it was a combo of things, even neglect of their health, or something stemming from bad habits they gave up years ago. MAYBE IT IS natural undetermined causes or age or etc etc etc ….
If you really have to know AND THEY DON’T VOLUNTEER THE INFO … and you still think you are owed an answer ASK SOMEONE ELSE … or look up their OBITUARY.
STOP ASKING WIDOWS AND WIDOWERS HOW THEIR SPOUSES DIED.
Even after I wrote a very long and detailed obit… and made the origination donation OBVIOUS AS HECK … I still have had some people ask the most invasive and ignorant questions.
STOP ASKING PEOPLE HOW THEIR PARTNERS PASSED AWAY if they don’t volunteer the info or the foundation they may be raising money for in their name.
AND for some of you rare few: STOP ASKING FOR SPECIFIC DEAH DETAILS AND SPECIFIC DIAGNOSES! Do you honestly think we want to go into cold bloodless medical detail??? Do you not think that is traumatic for us???????
And for those one or two out there in every crowd: CAN YOU NOT ASK:
“did they have any symptoms”
“Where were you?”
“What were there lifestyle choices?”
“Did you have any inkling?”
For anything: medical diagnoses, long term illnesses, undiagnosed genetic conditions, sudden deaths, MURDERS!!, SUICIDES!!, mental health or addiction issues!!!, OVERDOSES!!! Accidents!!! Etc etc!
Just STOP IT.
And stop assuming everything is drugs when there are many undiagnosed medical conditions and accidents on their own… and if it is suspected drugs THE IMMEDIATE LOVED ONES are not the ones to debate addiction care or mental health in society for people who passed away who may have been depressed.
Just please stop and think before you ask death questions or super personal questions.
You don’t have to fix us or save us or cheer us up or wallow either. Just be yourself, let us offer info IF WE FEEL LIKE IT or allow us to keep our privacy, and we promise we will do our best to navigate the awkward moments together as we haphazardly figure life out.
We so often just appreciate listening, caring, remembering something sweet, saying sometimes how sad we are, but we don’t like volunteering extra info or being interrogated. And sometimes we have macabre dark senses of humor about life or death or loss or anything. It doesn’t mean we need to cheer up, it means we feel comfortable being real with you for a minute.
And please do me a special favor. Don’t try to micromanage every decision the survivor makes in their new life. They are just trying to survive and figure stuff out. Don’t judge them harshly on their solo parenting or whether they don’t date anyone again or don’t date for a long time… or … and listen up for this one: if they date after widowhood. No-one knows better than a widow or widower they will never get their person back and they will never love someone the same way and that there are NO REPLACEMENTS. Try to understand they often feel dead inside for a long time. They are scared and alone. They suffer every second of life for a long time. If they find any spark of life AS THIS NEW WEIRD PERSON THEY ARE NOW and any reason to not give life up and not take care of themselves or their family — don’t you dare judge them or begrudge them for dating or having friends or needing someone to even platonically hold them just to feel human contact.
I’ve expedited this firsthand and I’ve had some pretty shitty and terrible and narcissistic and hypocritical stuff said to me and about me over presumed things people know nothing about and the agony of caring so much what others think and trying to honor the love of your life and your heart ripped out into shreds — we have earned our mistakes and our experiences AND WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE MISTAKES AND MAKE CHOICES AND no-one has the right to judge us. IF YOU ARE UPSET ABOUT THIS TELL IT TO SOMEONE ELSE. PERIOD.
Please also don’t try to borrow money or move in with or micromanage the widow or widows new life as they navigate it – especially in the first year – because you only add to their burden and sense of guilt.
It’s taken me over a year to finally say fuck it and not choke with survivors guilt every ragged breath I take (and I will always have sad regrets and my heart and our love to me will also be the center of my being and no one can touch that or change that) but I finally had the breakdown to breakthrough where I realized I was killing myself to please others (and you can never please everyone at any one time, damned if you do, damned if you don’t) and I learned people project a lot of their own neurotic guilt and weird shit and inability to deal with their feelings around grief onto widows and widowers … and SOCIETY doesn’t know what the hell to do with us except pretend we don’t exist and to never discuss death … and to judge the hell out of our personal grieving: grieving too long OR not long enough, or not the way “their mother did” etc etc.
Do you want us dead? No? Then LET US LIVE.
Thank you for allowing us to be without judging us so harshly or discounting the intense pain and loss and crisis we experience even if we move to a new place or stay in the same place or date or remarry one day or our solo parenting differs from the coupled parenting or we don’t look or sound or act the way you want us to. Please let us live. Let us risk. Let us learn. Don’t make it harder for us because you disapprove or you can’t handle your own feelings. LET US LIVE.
And thank you to the many many people who listen with openness and kindness and allow us to try to gently lead our own opening up to you. Even if we don’t always say it we appreciate all the sensitive and caring and support and we truly appreciate the smallest simplest kindnesses like respect and checking in and giving space when needed, too.
We sincerely hope you don’t have to go down this path for a long long time.
We really do appreciate the smallest human gestures and recognition while allowing us to control one thing in our lives: our privacy and our slowly unfolding selves.
Thanks for letting me rant on
It’s been 13 months in the making. ❤️
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I got to have so many of my own Roman Holiday moments with you… a lifetime of them.
There is a magic feeling in Italy and these other places with a Byronic vision of the past and the pastoral and the monuments and art and ruins and sunshine and plays and ballet and opera and just simple moments walking at sunset and people watching or stopping for a coffee.
Just taking it all in together. Being amazed by thousands of years of humanity and civilization at your fingertips. Seeing and being.
Being in love with the sunshine and water fountains and ice cream and fruit ripening on the trees and with each other. Learning, learning, learning together. Living and appreciating the moment for weeks on end, always in the moment.
Walking for miles, laughing, arguing then laughing, crying at the beauty, exhilarated by it.
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I finally shut off my husband’s cell phone, after paying for it for a long time rather than shut it off, and I was able to save his message and a message he left a friend right before he died suddenly where he says he is leaving a client’s wake, and he continues, “…good thing we’re not the body, huh, prabhu?” with a mock nervous laugh.
I could hear the smirk in it, but he also meant exactly what he said. I hadn’t listened to it in months because it always made me cry (just like the sad sack music/joie de vie Maya Deren vid collages I make of him and the 50 images apple said were deleted forever, which popped back up in my icloud when I bought an imac pro last week for my home office I madly decided to create)… so I cry (but underneath it all makes me relieved the message I can keep was so directly about what fills most of my contemplation and preoccupations and meanderings and ruminations with).
I miss his discussions on the material nature of life versus the consciousness of energy and/or spirit. I miss our death talks and our life dreams. I miss not feeling guilty all the time, I’m terrified of returning to the limbo of shock and feeling frozen or dead inside, yet I’m terrified of feeling happy and free.
Each emotion (especially as a woman, all water, all mirage, all cloud and fog and crashing sea, formless, gormless, anchorless and floating helplessly and fine with it – there’s the rub – fine with it) each emotion is muteable but they all carry fidelity, noble ideas, connexion in the original sense. If one let’s go of all the feelings does one let go of love and memory and the meaning crystallizing lives interwoven?
Be 20 years old and meet your destiny, follow it, give yourself over to the Keatsian impulse of Negative Capability in flesh and feeling not just poetry, do as nature dictates, and then, one day, everything but your form is extinguished, everything you knew, even the old fist shaped organ is transmuted, and the pulse and the smile and the eye rolls and the murmurs and the wisdom has vanished. The hands to hold in the dark, the spark, the dream you could laugh with, the mystery you held for awhile in an open palm. But… but… but… the only way is a bit of zen and a bit stocism and a bit of mysticism … these are all useless words … the only way is the way … we are the way … all we can do is not just exist in the moment but fucking experience and appreciate the moment … and open ourselves to something betwixt the veil and the sea inside. Energy expands if we expand, because yes, if we constrict and narrow and deaden whilst still conscious we are in the hell of our own making, the hell of our own inaction, the hell of dullness and incuriousness, … and when energy transfigures we are ready to roll.