Tomorrow will be the tenth anniversary of my husband Rick's passing. And while in many ways I have moved on with my life, not a day goes by that I don't think of him. Grief is a very personal thing and has no adequate timetable. Words like "closure" are meaningless to someone who has lost a loved one. Very often people find themselves at a loss as to what to say to someone in mourning.
I thought it might be a good idea to re-post the article I wrote several years ago which touched on just that subject:
A few weeks ago, I was stopped by a woman in the market who inquired as to whether I was wearing a fragrance. Thinking I was about to be complimented I told her that I was. She proceeded to inform me of the fact that fragrances cause cancer. (Wait, it gets worse). I told her that my husband died of cancer and that if I learned anything it’s that death can come to us regardless of the precautions we take and that it is best to live life fully while we can. Her response? “Maybe it was your fragrances that contributed to your husband’s death”.
Am I kidding? I wish I were. People sometimes speak before they have time to consider the moronic and often hurtful things they say. This woman was a stranger to me, but frequently well meaning friends and family members have been known to make foolish remarks to someone who has just experienced the loss of a loved one. I, myself, have said things that I have come to regret. Here are some things not to say to someone in mourning:
1. He’s in a better place. I heard this said of a twenty-year old. To me, a better place for this kid should have been a rock concert.
2. Be grateful for the good years you had together. Of course one is glad for the good years; does it make a person ungrateful to have wanted more?
3. Were you left well provided for? And you’re asking this why?
4. Did he smoke? (Asked about a victim of lung cancer). Did he use a cell phone? (Asked about a victim of brain cancer) These questions are asked to receive the assurance that if one doesn’t ‘partake’ in said activities, one can avoid the same dire consequences.
5. At least it wasn’t a real baby yet. Yes, this was actually said to a woman who miscarried in her 5th month.
6. I know how you feel, I’m divorced. As bad as a divorce can be, it is not the same as death. I would ask someone with children who makes this statement, “Do your kids still have a mother or a father?” (whatever the case may be.) In addition to this, some people have, incredibly, said, “Believe me, in my case, death would have been better.”
7. What were her symptoms? Questions such as this are generally asked by those with a touch of hypochondria who are afraid that they might be experiencing similar symptoms.
8. You can always have more children. Whispered, encouragingly, to the woman who has just experienced a stillbirth. As if having another child could possibly replace the one who has died.
9. Well, you knew this day would come. Whether said in reference to someone who was terminally ill or in regards to the loss of an elderly parent, it is an obvious and insensitive remark to make. Of course one knows that an elderly parent is not going to live forever, but that knowledge doesn’t lessen the grief when the inevitable day arrives.
10. I can empathize; I just lost my 96 year old father. While losing a parent is sad at any age (I lost my own father when I was only fourteen) the loss of someone who has lived a full life doesn’t quite compare to the untimely loss of a relatively young parent or spouse and certainly not to the loss of a child.
11. You should get another (dog or cat) right away. To most pet owners, a dog or a cat is a beloved member of the family that cannot just be easily replaced. In fact, in many cases, the grief a pet owner feels over the loss of a beloved pet might be as strong or stronger than what others might feel for a human being. (This having been said, when someone has just lost a spouse, a sibling, a child, etc., it would probably not be the most appropriate time to bring up the loss of one’s pet).
12. Think of it as beginning a new chapter in your life. Though in many ways this is true, it is usually far too soon for a bereaved person to contemplate turning that first page in his or her life.
13. You’ll be able to move on, real soon, you’ll see. Contrary to the commonly held belief that grieving occurs in stages (denial, anger, sorrow, acceptance, etc.), it is actually not a linear process. One can feel that he or she has a handle on things and the grief can come back to bite you a year or two or even ten years down the line. The bottom line is everyone ‘moves on’ at his or her own pace and in varying degrees.
14. At least you have closure. Closure is, in many ways, an empty word when dealing with the loss of a loved one.
15. I’ll be there for you. In and of itself, this is not a bad thing to say provided you are truly prepared to walk the walk and not merely talk the talk.
Best thing to say under these circumstances, when you’re at a loss for words? I’m so sorry for your loss.
Have a great week and, once again, thank you for joining me on this week’s journey along,
RHODES LESS TRAVELED