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.
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