Grief Makes People Say the DUMBEST Things (..big sigh)

This week’s My Turn column in Newsweek is written by a woman who clearly is in the anger stage of grief – a place that invites raw, honest writing. 

I’ve long supported public education of what NOT to say to someone who has lost a loved one, be it a person or a pet. I can’t believe how many people said to me just a few days after my husband died, “Oh, you’ll meet someone new” or “Do you think you’ll get married again?” Good god, folks! I know they were well-intentioned and didn’t mean to upset me, but that’s no excuse for their inability to ask themselves, “Is this REALLY an appropriate comment at this moment or at all?”

I was appalled by the story the author told about the deacon who attended her father’s funeral: “On the day of my father’s funeral, we were greeted by a grinning deacon who shook our hands and chirped, “Isn’t it a beautiful day? I’m so glad you have sun for your memorial!” I wanted to shake this woman. Couldn’t she invoke a solemn tone for at least five seconds on the darkest morning of my life?”

You just don’t say shit like that to people who are grieving. You just don’t. Period.

There are only a few things people said or did that I choose to remember most from those dark days. One was that my friends traveled 200 miles from Minneapolis to be with me, not knowing what to expect or what to say. They were just there and they held me and cried with me and let me know they loved me. Another thing was a card I received from a woman I’d never met before. She wrote an incredibly heartfelt letter about how sad she was for me. She was around my age, had a baby, her husband was a farmer, and she wrote that while she obviously couldn’t empathize with my situation, she could sympathize and she sent me her warmest and kindest thoughts.

It’s something my pastor said to me that has stuck with me most all these years and I share it often with others who grieve. He said that time doesn’t heal, it only gives you perspective. At the moment he said that to me, I remember being angry.

“What do you mean time doesn’t heal?” I cried to him. “It HAS to! It MUST! How else am I supposed to feel better and good and normal ever again if SOMETHING doesn’t heal me?”

“Time doesn’t have the power to ‘heal,’” he replied. “Healing implies it all goes away, but years from now you’ll be able to recall this time and feel everything you feel at this very moment. In time, you will get stronger, you will feel joy again, you will build yourself up, but this comes from inside you, not because a certain amount of time passes. It’s a lot of work and you won’t be the same person you were before he died. You can’t.”

He was right. When I realized the long, arduous road of grief, I was better able to deflect the idiotic comments of people who thought that in six months time I should no longer be grieving. Grieving people deserve honesty. They deserve to hear stories of their loved ones, they deserve to know you’re sad for them. They deserve the truth. They deserve to cry. Offering them joy in their sorrow, asking them to think ahead to better days is just wrong.

OK, I’m stepping off my soap box. But I still think you should read My Turn.

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