You know how you sometimes get a nasty cut, and for days after it stings, especially when it gets exposed to water, or soap, or whatever? Think of loss the same way. When someone is grieving, have a giant cut on their heart. Things you say or do may sting a little, or a lot, no matter the intent.
Think about a widow like this, a ball of nerves, sensitive to even the most minute disturbance in their surroundings. Widows are wrapped up in their own grief and live in their own little worlds, they tend to lose sight of others, with the exception of how they may be impacted by others. It is selfish, I know, but unfortunately true enough. Every bump, every movement of air, every insensitive statement stings. There are some definite things to be cautious about, and things you should probably not say to a widow/widower because they will aggravate the sensitive wound:
- “There are other fish in the sea.” Or any similar phase that implies they will find someone else or that love will come again. At one point, just weeks after my husband passed, I actually had someone try to set me up with a widower they knew, because we “had a lot in common.”
- “Your wife/husband is in a better place.” Depending on what they believe, they know this, but that doesn’t help or comfort. Remember they are consumed with themselves and their own grief and can only think that the better place is by their side.
- “You should keep busy, go back to work, get back to a normal routine, it will take your mind off of things.” Nope, not the case. Everyone deals with grief and loss in their own way, keeping busy does not actually take someone’s mind off a lost spouse. And putting off grieving by replacing it will not make it go away, only prolong the inevitable. You cannot escape grief.
- “You should move, sell the house, find a new job, …or any other life altering event.” Someone who has just lost a spouse had just experienced a life altering event, why encourage more change, which could only leave them with less stability? Please refrain from offering advice, again, you cannot escape grief.
- “You are lucky, divorce is so much harder because you still have to deal with the other person.” Really? I actually had someone say this to me…
Much like that cut, the sensitivity lessens as a scab develops, and you eventually a scar develops, but it never really goes away.
As someone who lost a spouse, I speak from my own experience. The early months (years), I was in pain. Not just emotional pain, but actual physical pain. Everything in my body was off. I had headaches, chills, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I had digestive problems, my body ached…I was nauseous all the time. Grief overcomes your body and mind. I know that people grieve differently, but this was my experience. I am not sure that the people around me realized what was going on, or if they did, if they could fully comprehend. I was sensitive to everything and it made me very short-sighted, and I will say it again….selfish. I could not see past my own experiences. I wanted my life to be “normal” but it wasn’t. I wanted to sleep, but I couldn’t, I wanted to eat, but couldn’t choke a meal down. I am certain that not only did I hear many insensitive things, I assuredly made many insensitive comments in return. Pain is a funny thing, and the pain of grief is not to be denied. The only way is to go through it, there is no side-stepping it, and as stated before, it never really goes away, you just learn ways to live with it. It is the scar that remains on your heart forever, how you choose to live with it is up to you.
“There is a difference in intentional and unintentional hurt. Sensitive and overly sensitive – with exposure to raw nerves.” ~Jennifer Warren