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I've moved this from another discussion because I really want to know what the answer is. It's been well established on here that widows/widowers don't like being asked "How are you?" and questions like that. What would be an acceptable way for people to enquire how you're doing. I'm assuming that most people that ask KNOW that you're suffering what you are, and mean well when they ask.  I've found that most people that ask me "How are you?" just want the chance to comfort me if I need it and don't know any other way to initiate the conversation. So....what is the right thing to ask, or do most people prefer that others just ignore their situation.

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I agree that most people ask "How are you" merely as a generic opening statement, and most people DO wish to understand your life (within limits) and wish to help you.

If you shut off anyone who says "How are you" you -- seriously -- risk being ignored. Which might sound good for the moment... but remember widowed people's chief complaint (as I have heard it) is "where did everyone go?"

I suggest ignoring any pressure to "respond appropriately" and be honest (break out in tears or whatever when they ask) ... or suck it up as a banal but small part of your overall conversation with the person. But do bear in mind that the person asking doesn't have a road map any more than you do.

I don't think any of us are required to be genteel and gracious at all times, perhaps not even at any times.

But I also think being unnecessarily crotchety and taking things personally when no offense is intended -- no matter how clueless the person is -- serves *us* badly in the long run.

Just my experience as someone who, at 5 years, finds her main issues are those of mending fences, rebuilding burnt bridges, etc. (And I don't think I was even that nasty about small talk).

This is why on my blog I won't publish lists of "what not to say," no matter how popular they are with "grief gurus" AND readers. In nearly all cases in my life, I would rather have had people around me and helping, even if they acted like idiots. (Within limits, of course). I felt abandoned -- and I was alone -- and that aloneness did me more damage than a few clumsy words.

My agenda has become one of DECREASING the fear that our friends and communities have of the grieving -- not of increasing or justifying that fear.

Just my perspective, not a popular one, but I own it. :-)

Pardon the cross-posting:

When it comes to everyone's favorite "how are you doing?" I think that a major component is who is doing the asking.  I'll use myself as an example here. Coming from my mother, it was said so often that it just became annoying, and would get answered with "fine" just to shut her up.  Coming from a casual acquaintance or a stranger it either goes unanswered or more likely "as good as can be expected" which is an answer I seem to give a lot.  But coming from a well meaning friend who hasn't asked in a while or is asking because I seem to be in a bad mood, I'll answer honestly, and assuming that they actually want to hear the answer I have no problem with the question, and if they clearly didn't want to hear the answer, then I'll go on and on making them deal with the consequences of asking the question.

very well said.



Excellent post.  Very well said in my opinion.  I have been think a lot about this lately and wondering Gee to I make my loneliness a self fulfilling prophesy in certain ways.  You comment about "you risk being ignored" reminded me of that and other ways we may actually inadvertently ourselves make it hard for people to talk and help us in certain ways.  I am still thinking about that but its something I want to pursue as I realze there may be things I might need to rethink myself to also help others help.


That being said, Here are some interesitng thoughts when I thnk of this topic

  1. Honestly one of the hardest things for me early on in people helping was the fact that I was either in a fog and somewhat clueless of what needed to be done or how people could help.  It is still weird to me that I could feel completely overwhelmed know I DID need help, and yet have such difficulty in knowing "HOW" people could assist me.  It helped me to make lists of things that were hard for me and things where I thought I could use help to refer to.  I really loved people who helped come over and clean and just be here too esp in the first few weeks. Those souls were like gold to me.
  2. I actually really did appreciate the "How are you", or the "How are you , really?"questions form those I knew really did care if they came at a place where we could talk.  The flippant ones said in passing I did not like.  also early on I think I did feel the "DUH PEOPLE, what do you think I feel right now?" feelings too. I realized I had a lot to process and really appreciated the key few who I could take the time to really share what I was going though.  It did help and still helps me process the thoughts and emotions I still face.  But I did get more discerning along the way of who i could trust and who I could be vulnerable with.  The big key for me was 1) sincerity and 2) time to be able to answer the question.
  3. One of the hard things I faced was the people who wanted to give advice.  Like you I'd rather it come than not come as too many people are afraid to say anything.  I think many times I'd rather (in general) get something than nothing, although there are waay to many things people did say that I wish they had not.  I think I just needed someone to at least really listen as I had so much to say and often no one to say it to, that it helped having someone to talk to who cared.  What I found is that the people giving the advice were never REALLY listening to what I said and that is what bothered me.  I really DO appreciate sound advice, but I DONT appreciate advice for a problem I dont have.  It is like getting medicine for a sickness you dont have.  It does not help and could make things worse.  I think both me as a listener needed to hear than and the speaker too. 
  4. I  am constantly blessed to hear of people who honestly really really care for me, who check my facebook page daily to see how I am doing and who pray for me every day.  There really are many people out there who care.  Many said they felt so fearful of saying the wrong thing that they would not say anything.  I always tried to tell them please at least say hi, that helps me a lot.  It may be the best thing you could to to show me you care enough to be here and pray. To sum up, just being there and caring enough to keep coming back helped me a ton.

Great thoughts and great questions.  Seriously Supa, you are awesome for looking at ways to facilitate non-grievers in helping grievers.  Brilliant!  I hope some day to do that too.  I hope my trials and hurts and painful times could help someone hopefully even in a small way have a less painful grief journey.  I love that you are already doing this.  Its a wonderful thing...

In early widowhood I would have much rather had someone ask me if I needed anything or needed help with anything. Obviously I wasn't doing well, my husband was dead. Asking how I was doing just made things worse. Another thing that seemed okay for me was saying we are thinking about you. I wasn't a fan of the praying for me thing at the time since that didn't help my husband, but I'm sure it was/is a comfort for some people. So I guess questions to offer assistance or statements were okay most of the time.

What's really funny is that on another list I'm on, someone (a young widowed mom) just said that:

She HATES "I'm sorry for your loss" (she's not alone, but most of us find it inoffensive at best) and so she won't say it to others.

And she tells other widows "he's in a better place" and "at least he isn't suffering any more" all the time. Probably the phrases that I found the most upsetting.

Which to me proves that while we are all a bit the same, we are all pretty different, too. Weird, huh?

To me, saying we are thinking about you or can we do something for you is completely different then sorry for your loss. That still gets to me at 4 years out. And the better place crap, sure maybe he isn't in pain or something but better to me would have been with me.

I agree that most people mean well, and find it very awkward to inquire, though they truly want to know and be there for you. Of course there are those who do not have your best interests at heart when probing how you are, but I believe that type is far and few between. It took me a little while to figure it out, but I learned to discern true concern from nosiness. When I'm the one asking I usually say, how's it going, and convey willingness to just listen, in my experience that's what grief needs--to be heard.


Like Fuzzy, I was always bothered much more by "he's in a better place" and comments of that type.  The one that pushed my button in particular though was, "he's really not gone."


It probably goes without saying that the farther out I got, the less sensitive I was about what to say/what not to say.

I have been a little surprised at how many people here have experienced extreme insensitivity around their loss. I can only think of one person whose response to my suffering I found to be inappropriate, but even her response was understandable (even though I didn't like it at all.) She was someone who had had cancer herself at a young age, so I think she was too close to our situation to know how to respond appropriately. My husband's cancer perhaps made her feel anxious about her own prospects of a reoccurence which, sadly, happened to her this year. So she would talk to me way too much about the nitty gritty details of my husband's illness, and often, right in front of my little kids. Finally, I had to say something to her, and I think she really didn't like me for that.


I don't see anything wrong with asking someone "how are you"? To me, it's not the words people say, necessarily, but the motivation and emotion behind the words. Death is very, very difficult for all of us to deal with. I think that "insensitivity" around death is likely to be closer to fear, or ignorance, or denial. 


I would rather someone said anything at all to me about my late husband...even now, five years after his death...than to say nothing at all, as if he has disappeared even from their memory. Saying nothing, not acknowledging that he existed or that he is missed, or remembered, is worst of all for me.


Nurturing our own responses and feelings and ways of communicating about our loss are probably more important and more healing to us than anything anyone else could ever say.

I've had a lot of people recently asking me if I'm 'getting there'. It's bothering me a bit because they seem to know there's a goal I'm supposed to reach and I don't know what it is, so I don't know how to answer their expectations. A lot of people have also told me lately how very sad my story is and how very hard it all must be for me. These things are true, but if I had managed to get to a less sad place in that moment, these statements are guaranteed to get me crying.

I think the nicest thing people can say to me just now is that it's nice to see me. Not to ask how I'm coping or doing or going, or to tell me how incredibly sad I must be (which I am). I think if they just say it's nice to see me, they'd be recognising how hard it is just to get out of bed in the morning, shower, dress, eat, go to work, pretend to be a real human being. I know how hard it must be for someone who's never experienced this kind of loss and I absolutely appreciate that they are trying to offer me comfort and understanding, acknowledge my grief, be with me instead of moving away or pretending it hasn't happened. I'm just getting shy of meeting up with people because I'm so sad and I cry at the drop of a hat and that hat is often the phrase 'Hi - how are you coping today?'

I'm not.

We had open house here at the college last weekend, and I had to bite my tounge a few times.  Now Claire passed a year and a half ago, she was my wife, the campus was notified, and I got a number of cards, emails, and so forth.  About 2 or 3 weeks ago the other Peter on campus, whose wife is alive and well, had his mother pass.  The campus in it's usual fashion was notified of that as well.  Well some people don't pay any attention, and I had 3 different people that offered me condolences on the passing of my mother, having paid no attention to who is who, and these are people that didn't even acknowledge my loss at the time.  I simply responded with a curt "you've got the wrong person" however if it hadn't been open house with prospective students coming in they would have gotten "no that's not me, that's the other Pete, I'm the one whose wife died last year, and being as you didn't say anything then I'll give you a chance now" but that would have created an awkward day...

bumping this up to the front of the is worth the read.  :)



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