Open Mouth, Insert Foot

Witnessing grief makes people uncomfortable.  Yep.  Very very uncomfortable.  I understand.  Not knowing what to say is normal, natural and you need not apologize for your discomfort.  I will gladly accept a nod, a smile, a brief hug, a shoulder rub and even the basic, “I’m so sorry” and “How are you holding up?”  All of those things are acceptable and appreciated.  What I’m having a hard time accepting is dumb sh*t.  Be forewarned that the average widow, especially your girl over here, has a paper-thin tolerance for bullsh*t and an equally short fuse.  So, in the face of asinine comments, I’m unable to promise that I’ll responded calmly and take the high road.  Yesterday I tried, but I failed.

While I was pregnant in 2008, I wrote a post regarding some of the noisy, irritating and stupid things that people said to me.  Long time readers may remember, but for those unfamiliar, click right here for a look.  So, it seems that I need to write a little something something about the things you shouldn’t say to someone that’s been recently widowed.  Damn.  Didn’t realize this was necessary, but I suppose it is.  I don’t profess to be an expert at anything, so I’m certainly not here to say this is the “official” script and handbook for talking to a widow.  However, I’m nine weeks in and I can surely tell you a few things that will seal the deal on the ending of a friendship, get you slapped or bring an earful of cuss words you might not be expecting.

In general, my coworkers have been great.  I’ve been here for just over seven years.  I arrived as a newlywed, so they’ve seen me through many life transitions including buying a house and having Little TDJ.  Of course there are always a few rotten apples mixed in with the good ones.  One such apple walked up the steps with me yesterday.  She made small talk for a second about the weather, asked me how I was, then proceeded to say, “So, how long do you think you’ll keep wearing your rings?”.  My neck swiveled and she’s lucky that I had the good sense to remember I was in the office.  I doubt she even knows that her life was at risk, because for a brief second, I considered pushing her back down the flight of steps we had just climbed.  I promptly uttered a terse, “F*ck off!” and walked away.

Really ma’am???  What concern of yours is it how long I continue to wear my engagement ring and wedding band???  We are not family nor friends, so I know your question isn’t born from any sense of concern or worry about my emotional state.  Who thinks in those terms?  And how does my wearing MY rings affect you???  The thought to ask that of someone would never cross my mind, or the mind of anyone with any sense, empathy or compassion.  Whether I choose to take them off today, tomorrow or 4 years from now, that decision is mine and mine alone.

When you are first widowed, the people around you seem to make a genuine effort to understand your emotions, your crying jags, your outbursts, your depression, your need for comfort, etc.  Then, as time speeds forward, there seems to be an unspoken consensus, just under the surface that you should be better within weeks or months.  That thought process is flawed though because grief is actually a chronic condition. There is no cure, there is no fix and time, although rumored to, doesn’t exactly heal all wounds.  I may laugh a bit more, smile a little broader and seem a bit more talkative.  But underneath it all, there is a constant realization that my life is forever changed that stays with me, no matter how many days, weeks or months pass.  Yes, life goes on; of that, we are all certain.  However, I think there’s a disconnect as people don’t actually realize that a part of me died on June 9 when MrTDJ left this world.  In many ways, I’m frozen on June 9, and I’ve watched the last 9 weeks perched an a ledge as an unwilling participant and observer.

So, yeah, asking a new widow how long she’s gonna wear her rings is a big no-no.  A few other hot buttons that I’ve fielded but luckily for the person, I was medicated and chose not to respond.

  • You’re young.  I’m sure you’ll marry again.
  • When do you think you’ll start dating?
  • After my divorce, I felt the same as I’m sure you’re feeling now
  • I know just how you feel.

All of these phrases are rude and inappropriate.  Period.  Don’t use ever use them.  Remember that less is more, and if you are ever uncertain about what to say, stick to the basics.  “I’m so sorry.  I can’t imagine how you feel.  I’m praying for you.  If you ever need to talk, I’m here to listen.”  All four of those lines are winners and won’t get you (or your feelings) hurt.   They worked in June, they work now and they will work for many weeks and months to come.