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There’s a lot of discussion in widowhood circles about the “insensitive” things people say to recently widowed people. I put the word insensitive in quotations marks because I’m not 100% buying into this whole line of thinking. To me, it seems more likely we in the widowhood phase of life are so hyper-sensitive, and have our emotions so close to the surface, that there’s nothing others could say that won’t feel like they’re picking the scab off our wound and making it bleed again.
Sure, people shouldn’t tell us that we’ll find someone else. No one wants to hear that the love of our lives could be "replaced" or as one woman so aptly put it, “My husband was not a goldfish!” The you’ll-find-someone-else kind of statements are actually saying more about the person doing the talking than it was meant to comfort the widow in front of them. What they are really saying is they perceive themselves as being so weak they can’t imagine facing widowhood. They believe if they were in our shoes they’d have their thumbs stuck in their mouths until they someone comes along to solve all their problems. In other words, they still believe in the fairy tale about the white knight who rides in to saves the fair maiden in distress. Well screw that idea and the people who believe it! If we’re modern women we’d let them hear us roar out the message that our pain is too deep right now to look to the future. We don’t need a white knight in the foreseeable future or to acknowledge the fact that most widows actually do remarry in time. What we need is to finish mourning the “white knight” we lost.
Then there’s the statement that so many people say to recent widows: “You’re so strong!” There again, when you analyze the source of these kinds of statements aren’t they really talking about themselves and how lost they think they’d be in a similar situation? Well, duh! that's how we feel when we don't have our public faces plastered in place. But as misguided as these kinds of statements are they’re not meant to comfort. The person saying them is measuring their perceived shortcomings against our perceived strengths and scaring the holy crap out of themselves. The fact is most of us eventually will find our way out of the darkest days of our lives because failure isn’t an option. The you’re-so-strong kinds of statements could also be read as actually meaning, “I’m so glad you’re holding yourself together in public because I don’t have a clue what to do to help.” Clue to the clueless: when you don’t know what to say, offer a hug.
The bottom line is that people are human and as so we don’t always say or do the right things at the right times. When someone says something insensitive we can’t let it worm its way deep inside our hearts to fester and grow like a cancer. Speak up! Tell someone when something said isn’t helping. People don’t mean to hurt or upset us. Few people are educated in giving grief support and that includes giving ourselves the grief support we need to find from within.
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