Appalling Remarks People Say to Those Who Are Grieving

People make appalling comments to us bereft. At a time when we can barely manage to drag ourselves through our days, we have to find the energy and graciousness to make allowances for people’s tactlessness, ignorance, and downright meanness. Most people are unaware of what it feels like to lose a significant part of their life, such as a spouse or a child, and they seem to be terrified of even thinking about that unthinkable happenstance, so they distance themselves from our pain with unfeeling words. They want to believe that the universe makes sense; that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world (except for that one little slip when he let your loved one die); that everything happens for the best. It is almost impossible for people to comprehend that bad things happen for no reason at all, so of course, the deceased had to have done something to cause his or her death.

Although people were generally kind to me after the death of my 63-year-old life mate/soul mate, I still got my share of inexcusable remarks such as:

Blank stare, then, “My second cousin’s great aunt just died.” (How does that in any way relate to my having lost the man with whom I shared the past thirty-three years of my life?)

“I didn’t know he smoked.” (He didn’t. And what does smoking have to do with kidney cancer?)

“How did allow himself to get so sick?” (He took excellent care of himself, better than anyone else I ever met.)

“I know how you feel. My cat just died.” (There simply is no response to this.)

“You’ll find someone else.” (What kind of comfort is that supposed to be, especially a few days after the death of the one man who ever truly loved me and had time for me?)

“It’s God’s will.” (You don’t want to know what I think of a God who allows a good man to suffer for years and then die a horrible death just to satisfy His whims.)

“God never gives you more than you can handle.” (Wanna bet?)

“Everything happens for the best.” (Who’s best?)

As grief continues, even those who started out kind become impatient. They say things such as:

“You have to get on with your life.” (This is my life).

“He wouldn’t want you to grieve.” (Well, then, he shouldn’t have died!)

“Get over it.” (I’ll get over it when he gets over being dead.)

But the worst thing anyone ever said was:

“God will never take something away from you without replacing it with something better.” It’s bad enough to say (as so many people did) “God never closes a door without opening a window.” At least this door/window analogy acknowledges that the replacement might not be as good as what was lost. But for someone to say that He will replace what was taken with something better is totally reprehensible. How could He possible replace my life mate/soul mate/business partner/best friend/comforter/supporter/companion with anyone or anything that would be better than what I had? If you lose a job, perhaps (in a good market) you can find a better one. If you lose your wedding ring, perhaps you can buy a better one. But a person? How can one unique individual be replaced with another?

Besides, I know for a fact that the aphorism is wrong. It’s been twenty-one months since my mate was taken from me, and though many things, both good and bad, have happened to me in these months, nothing comes even close to being as good as what I once had.

Click here if you want to know: What to Say to Someone Who is Grieving

I Am a Thirteen-Month Grief Survivor

Yesterday at my grief support group we were asked to complete the sentence, “After he died, I was surprised that . . .” Everything that happened in the thirteen months since the death of my life mate — my soul mate — has surprised me. No, not surprised me. Shocked me.

I was shocked that the end came so quickly. He’d been sick such a very long time, his health fading slowly, that his dying became our way of life. When he was finally diagnosed with inoperable kidney cancer, we were told he had three to six months to live. He had only three weeks. And those weeks seemed to evaporate in just a few hours.

After he died, I was shocked by the very presence of grief. My brother died four and a half years ago, and my mother died a year later. I handled both deaths well, so I thought I could cope with the death of my mate. I didn’t know, had no way of knowing, that one didn’t grieve the same for every loss. I didn’t know, had no way of knowing, that there was a physical component to the death of a long time mate, that it would feel like an amputation.

After he died, I was shocked by the depth and breadth of my feelings. During the last year of his life, and especially the last six months, he’d begun withdrawing from the world and from me. This withdrawal, this lessening of a need to be with others is a natural part of dying, and my response to his withdrawal was just as natural — an increased determination to live. He might be dying but I wasn’t, and I had to untangle our lives, find a way to survive his dying and his death. I thought I had successfully completed this task, but his death rocked me to the core of my being.

After his death, I was shocked by his sheer goneness. Because I’d spent so much time alone that last year, I thought life without him would feel much the same, but it isn’t like he is in another room or another city or another country — it’s like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I still have no words to describe the finality, the undoableness, the vacuum of death. He was part of my life for thirty-four years. We breathed the same air. We were connected by our thoughts, our shared experiences, the zillion words we’d spoken to each other. And then he was gone from this earth. Erased. Deleted. I still can’t wrap my mind around that.

After his death, I was shocked that I felt so shattered. So broken. And I am shocked that I still feel that way at times. I am shocked that no matter how strong you are, how well you are healing, grief can slam into you at any time, especially after a good day when you’re not expecting it, and the pain feels as raw as it was at the beginning.

After his death, I was shocked by the scope of grief. You grieve for the one who died and you grieve for yourself because you have to live without him. You grieve for all the things you did and the things you didn’t do. You grieve for what went wrong in your shared life and what went right. You grieve for the past and you grieve for the lost future. You grieve for all the hopes and dreams and possibilities that died with him. It’s amazing that anyone can survive all that pain, but we do, and that shocks me, too.

After his death, I was shocked by how complicated human emotions can be. You can feel sad and unsad at the same time. You can be determined to live, yet not care if you live or die. You can know in your depths he’s gone, but still listen for him, still yearn for him, still worry about him.

Mostly I’m shocked that I am still the same person I was before he died. Such emotional trauma should have changed me, made me stronger and wiser perhaps, yet I’m still just me. Sadder, but still recognizably me. Well, there is one change. I’ve always been a worrier, but now I try not to fret about the future, try not to wonder how I’m going to cope with growing old alone. After his death, I am no longer shocked that life can remain the same year after year. Nor am I shocked that it can change in an instant.

Grief and Remembrance

The problem with grief is that while the subject of the grief stays gone, grief comes again and again, sometimes when one is least expecting it. I’d been doing well handling my grief after the death of the man with whom I spent thirty-four years of my life, yet these past couple of days grief has come to revisit me, and my sorrow is as great as it was a year ago.

I mentioned before about the terrible anniversaries of my grief. I lived through the first anniversary of the day pain struck him with such force that he took to bed for the rest of his life. I lived through the first anniversary of the day we got the diagnosis: inoperable kidney cancer. I lived through the first anniversary of the day we signed up for hospice, of the day we signed the DNR (the do not resuscitate order).

I had a hiatus of a couple of weeks where I was mostly at peace, then yesterday I was so overcome with grief that I wanted to scream out in anguish. I couldn’t figure out what hit me or why, but as it happens, the body remembers even when the mind doesn’t, and my body remembered that yesterday was the first anniversary of the last time we hugged, the last time we kissed.

And today . . . today is the first anniversary of the last time we talked. The last time he spoke to me. The last time he knew who I was. Today is also the anniversary of the day we took him to the hospice care center to live out the remaining few days of his life.

I’d been looking forward to the anniversary of his death, supposing that after a year of grieving I would be mostly finished with the pain, that he would have receded from my thoughts. It was a realistic expectation — my focus on him has been diminishing, so much so that sometimes it feels as if our life together was a story I told myself long ago — but as always, grief has its own agenda.

The past year seems to have disappeared. I know I lived it, know what I accomplished (and what I didn’t) yet the cliché is true — it passed in the blink of an eye. If I turn my head quickly, perhaps I will see him. He feels that close. If the world could turn back for just a second, I could catch him. Hang on to him. Never let him go.

But he is gone. And all the tears I shed this year will never bring him back.

Today was my grief support group day. I’d stopped going for a while. At the time, I wasn’t in the same place as the other bereft, and I was afraid I was doing them a disservice by my dissociation. After a few weeks, I did go back to be there for a friend, and today she and the group were there for me. Since I hadn’t had a memorial service for my mate, the facilitator asked me to say a eulogy, to make sense of his life, but I couldn’t make sense of it — I don’t understand the point of his having had to suffer so much. I could make sense of his life as pertains to me, though. I talked about how he accompanied and mentored me on my journey — my quest for truth and meaning — how he went with me as far as he could. Oddly, we’d used up our relationship, not in a bad way, but in a good way. We’d talked for hours on end, day after day, year after year. We read books and discussed them, studied films, researched various topics and shared information, tried to see the big picture and connect all the disparate parts of life.

I want so much to talk with him once more, to have one of those electric conversations where ideas were zinging back and forth, but the truth is, we said everything that was important. I have not come up with a single question for him this past year that he had not already answered. (Except for what he wants done with his ashes, but even that is an answer. If he cared, he would have told me.)

The last thing he ever said to me was, “Remember everything I told you.”

And I do remember.

I Am an Eleven-Month Grief Survivor

Eleven months ago, my life mate — my soul mate — died of inoperable kidney cancer. He took a final breath, his Adam’s apple bobbed twice, and then he was gone. It was a silent night — no storm lashing out in anger, no rain falling like tears, just the quiet passing of a quiet man. Nothing remained of him at the end but skin stretched around a skeleton without enough weight to make a dent in the bed, yet he left behind a hole in my life and my heart that will never be filled.

We’d been together thirty-four years. In comparison, eleven months seems like a mere blip in time, yet those few months contain an eon of sorrow and pain. He’d been dying for so long that I was glad when his suffering ended. Because of it, I truly did not expect to grieve, and I didn’t at first. I just sat in the room with his body and waited for the funeral director. The people at the hospice care center wanted me to finish the night there, but I couldn’t stay, so after they removed his body (not in a body bag but covered with a red plush blanket — he would have liked that), I headed back to the house. (You notice I don’t say I headed back home? He was my home. The house was just a house.)

I’m not sure when the grief hit me, but when it did, it slammed into me with such force I have not yet recovered my balance. It wasn’t a single body slam — the grief continued to grow for many weeks, until it all but consumed me. It didn’t consume me, of course. I managed to do all the terrible tasks of death: the grim paperwork, the final bills, the disposition of his effects. I’ve even managed to get on with my life. I’ve made friends. I’ve gone to museums. I take care of myself (most of the time, anyway. I still don’t always eat right, don’t always exercise, though I do walk for miles almost every day.)

On meeting me, you’d never know of my sorrow. I laugh, talk, joke, act like a normal person. And I am normal. Grief is now part of my normalcy. Every Friday night and Saturday, it descends on me. (Though upsurges of grief can occur any time without warning.) I cannot go to sleep on Friday nights until after 1:40 am, the hour of his death. Even if I don’t remember, my body does. And then, there is my time of the month — the date of his death. The 27th.

Yesterday I got an email from my sister: Can I tell you something I just love about you? I love your sense of irony, your talent for observation of seemingly insignificant details, and your almost-spiritual gift for connecting dots across time and distance. I thanked her, telling her I so needed to hear something nice, and she responded: Well, considering it’s Saturday, and considering the time of month, you just can’t hear enough nice things today, that’s what I’m thinking.

My time of the month. That used to mean something completely different, but now it means only this: I survived another twenty-eight or thirty or thirty-one days without him.

I Am a Six-Month Grief Survivor

Six months ago my life mate — my soul mate — died of kidney cancer, and my life changed forever. I survived the first excruciating weeks, and now I am learning to live with his absence and finding ways of going on by myself, but it’s lonely. So few people know how to act around the bereft, and they end up offering us maxims that bring no comfort because the adages are simply not true.

People tell us that time heals. Time does not heal. We heal. Grief helps us heal. Time does nothing. Time doesn’t even pass — we pass through time like persons passing through an endless desert.

People tell us that we’ll get over our loss, but when you have suffered a soul-quaking loss, you never totally get over it. Nor do you want to. Getting over it seems like a betrayal, a negation of the life you shared. The best you can do is eventually accept the person’s absence as a part of your life.

People tell us to on with life. They don’t understand that this is our life. Grief is how we get on with it.

Grief is not the problem. The problem is that our loved one died. Grief is the way we deal with that loss, the way we process it, the way we heal the wound of amputation. By experiencing the pain, by allowing ourselves to feel the loss, we honor our loved one and our relationship, and gradually we move through the pain to . . . to what? I’m not sure what lies on the other side of grief. I’ve passed the worst of the pain but not yet arrived at a new way of living.

During these past six months, I’ve been inundated with information about how to deal with grief. I purposely refrained from reading the material, which is strange for me — I’ve always been one who researches everything — but I didn’t want to know the accepted way to grieve. I wanted to experience my own grief without the current fad getting in the way. It used to be that grief was a regimented experience — one wore black and mourned for a year. More recently, the “stages of grief’ became the accepted way of grieving, though now there are various new ways of thinking about grief. The truth is, grief is personal, and except for the extremes of not allowing oneself to feel anything and trying to find ways of dying so you can join your loved one, however you grieve, that is the right way to grieve.

Grief makes even friends and family uncomfortable, so eventually the bereft learn to hide what they feel. They stop talking about their loved one, but they never forget.

I will never forget.

He will always live in my memory.