Print Story Some things my wife’s death has taught me
Diary
By lm (Mon Jul 29, 2019 at 06:39:04 AM EST) (all tags)
I have no idea how close to commonplace my feelings while dealing with loss are. But here are some observations about what doesn't help when you're dealing with people who are in morning.


I can now understand why some people die from broken heart syndrome the same day as their loved ones. Sometimes thinking of Jenn or somebody asking me how I am or just facing the day brings shortness of breath, tightness in my chest, and a feeling like I’ve been punched in the gut. Broken heart syndrome is a real thing. I can see how if someone were sick or in a physically weakened state, it would cause heart failure.

The next person I hear say that it’s romantic that someone died shortly after a loved one, I’m going to punch them in the face. It’s not romantic, it’s horrible. It’s by far the most emotionally traumatic thing that I’ve ever been through.

:: :: :: :: ::

Americans are very bad at talking about death. When acquaintances, and even friends who haven’t heard the news yet, ask me how I’m doing and I say something like “my wife died earlier this month, so …”, they don’t know how to deal with it. Usually the conversation gets really awkward really quickly.

Asking someone how they’re doing when you know they just lost a loved one is a really fucking stupid thing to do. You know how they’re doing already, horrible.

What makes it worse is that it’s a very American thing to ask “hows it going?” as a brief informal greeting. So even the times I have my mind on something else, somebody just casually walks by and asks “how’s it going?” without waiting for an answer, it reminds me that I’m not really doing very well and the sadness comes back to the forefront and the tears well up.

Just say “Hi” or “Hello”, or just smile and nod.

:: :: :: ::

Sympathy cards are pointless if you're just going to sign your name. At the very least write a personal note.

:: :: ::

Don’t say “let us know if you need, anything”. Everyone says this, even people you wouldn’t ask to piss on you if you were on fire. It comes across as vapid and insincere.

Instead ask if you can do something specific. “Would you like to come over for dinner with our family next week?” or “Can I bring some boxes over and help you sort through stuff?”

There was one variation of “if you need anything” that did really touch me. A woman came up to me after liturgy two weeks ago and something like “In a few weeks, people are going to stop offering help and think that everything’s gone back to normal in your world but it won’t have. <Insert husband’s name here> and I will still be here for you, even as socially awkward as we are, we’ll be there for you”

:: ::

If you’ve got a crush or obsession with someone who is mourning, give them space and time before you do anything about it. Even if you think the one in mourning reciprocates the feelings, people still need time to process grief and more likely than not romantic overtures will not end the way you would like.

It especially surprises when people from my faith tradition do this. I mean, we Orthodox have the whole 40 days things going on after everything. You’d expect people to at the very least respect that.

::

In the first few days and weeks, money helps more than I had realized. Even if there is life insurance money that will come, it takes a while to untangle things. Joint bank accounts can get frozen. Checks take a while to come in the mail. Having cash on hand to do just everyday sorts of things takes off a lot of pressure.

I lost track of who gave me what. But a lot of people gave me sympathy cards with ten or twenty dollars. It all added up to a significant sum, only a little more than I actually needed. And it helped out a lot those first couple weeks. 

< So I checked out this place called The Snare | Gotta Get Back at It >
Some things my wife’s death has taught me | 12 comments (12 topical, 0 hidden)
I found this book very helpful ... by me0w (4.00 / 2) #1 Mon Jul 29, 2019 at 06:51:58 AM EST
It's Okay the You're not Okay

Yeah, that. by ana (4.00 / 4) #4 Mon Jul 29, 2019 at 11:38:48 AM EST
I was just about to look up the link and recommend it. It's also good for friends who don't know what to do (but are open to instruction). It's a totally no-nonsense book and she makes many of the same points you just did (and she even quotes something I wrote in her writing class on grief an loss).

At the memorial for a friend, when it was my turn to talk with his wife (also someone I knew since grad school),  I told her that, after a week or two, all these folks will have gone, the dishes will be washed and returned. Look me up. We'll make tea and sit, and you can tell me anything at all. And bless her, she did exactly that.

I'm sorry for your loss. I'm here, you can say anything at all. If we were closer, I'd come over and make tea.

Or get rabies. Also don't do that. --scrymarch

[ Parent ]
Ugh by Phil the Canuck (4.00 / 2) #2 Mon Jul 29, 2019 at 07:57:25 AM EST
The casual 'how's it going' is just the worst.

Or the slightly worse by mmangino (4.00 / 3) #3 Mon Jul 29, 2019 at 08:39:44 AM EST
 How are you doing, really? 

It's the "really" that gets me. Like I've been lying to everybody else, but because you added that, I'll give you the real scoop.


[ Parent ]
Yes by Phil the Canuck (4.00 / 2) #5 Mon Jul 29, 2019 at 01:39:11 PM EST
Please don't make me your emotional charity case for the day, I'm just trying to get my work done and go home.

[ Parent ]
hmm. by aphrael (2.00 / 0) #10 Wed Jul 31, 2019 at 07:28:25 PM EST
i've got a couple friendships --- one here in the bay, a handful in ny, maybe one or two elsewhere --- where that would feel appropriate.

the actual meaning in those cases would run somewhat like this:

like, it's an acknowledgment that in most social situations you have to wear a mask, because people aren't comfortable with your grief, and because you have to get through the day --- but you and i are close enough that you don't have to wear the mask with me, and you may have forgotten that you're wearing it, so i'm inviting you to take it off, and share. or not; your choice.

this is only appropriate for a tiny percentage of the people i know. but for them, it would be.
If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.

[ Parent ]
*hug* by aphrael (4.00 / 3) #6 Mon Jul 29, 2019 at 02:09:24 PM EST
> A woman came up to me after liturgy two weeks ago and something like “In a few weeks, people are going to stop offering help and think that everything’s gone back to normal in your world but it won’t have. <Insert husband’s name here> and I will still be here for you, even as socially awkward as we are, we’ll be there for you”

that's really super awesome of them.

>If you’ve got a crush or obsession with someone who is mourning, give them space and time before you do anything about it.

man, i would have thought that didn't need to be said. :{
If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.

Sympathy cards by Merekat (4.00 / 4) #7 Tue Jul 30, 2019 at 03:24:34 AM EST
I hated those - all of them - when my dad died. I felt like they were requiring me do do performative grief on someone else’s terms.

Lots of social obligations around death seem to fit in that box. I just wanted to be left alone to find a way back to normal.

Not quite the same... by miserere (4.00 / 2) #8 Tue Jul 30, 2019 at 03:12:22 PM EST
When my mom died, I really appreciated the sympathy cards, in particular those that had something (anything) personal in them beyond a signature (and I REALLY appreciated all of those here who made donations in my mom's name to the charity we picked). Mostly, I think, I had felt so incredibly isolated during the time leading up to my mom's death, feeling increasingly like my world had shrunk. Those cards and notes and such were a really low-impact way for people to let me know that they were still out there, and still thinking about me, and still available when I was ready to come back out from the cave I'd been in. I think if it had been a sudden death, or if I hadn't been there, in that intense care-taking mode with her (and very far away from just about all of my chosen family), they would've hit me very differently.

The ones who sincerely annoyed and angered me were the ones who couldn't look me in the eye when they saw me, or who said it was 'God's will,' or that she "fought so hard' before she 'lost her battle.' We all have those things that drive us absolutely nuts in the midst of a loss, I think.

[ Parent ]
I hear you loud and clear on the social obligation by lm (4.00 / 1) #9 Tue Jul 30, 2019 at 06:51:01 PM EST
My I'm with miserere on the sympathy cards that have personal notes.

Granted most are kind of superficial. But the fact that they made some kind of effort comforts me.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Everybody's different by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 2) #11 Wed Aug 07, 2019 at 07:31:33 AM EST
When my father died I mostly just didn't want to talk to most people about it. At one point I was literally hiding from aquaintances in a Tube station so I didn't have to either pretend nothing had happened and say "I'm fine", or go through another one of those conversations.

Do whatever works for you, and I just hope that whatever it is helps.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

I know this is late by 256 (2.00 / 0) #12 Thu Aug 22, 2019 at 06:25:32 PM EST
But I'm so sorry. I'm sending love.
---
I don't think anyone's ever really died from smoking. --ni
Some things my wife’s death has taught me | 12 comments (12 topical, 0 hidden)