You are grieving, upset, depressed, anxious, feeling alone and lost while finding yourself in a maze of people. Some of those people are family, good friends, co-workers, neighbors — the myriad of human beings who inhabit your world. You used to be able count on them to lift your spirits, trade a smile, give a caring word. Now you barely recognize your life and the people in it. Some are avoiding you as though you had a contagious disease. Even worse are those who speak in a language that cuts right to the bone of your despair. Perhaps you have been on the receiving end of these gems of insensitivity. Here are just a few that you may recognize:
- You are never given more than you can handle.
- Feel grateful that you had so many years together.
- At least, she didn’t suffer long.Just let me know if you need anything.
- Before you know it, you’ll be dating and fall in love again.
- You should be getting over this by now.
- Just let me know what I can do.
- Clean out his stuff to get some closure.
- Take a trip.
- Get a pet.
- Get meds to deal with all this grief.
- Move out of that big house into something smaller.
- I really know how you feel.
- At least s/he lived a long life.
So, what do you do when formerly good people in your life specialize in bad responses?
Take a look at a few possibilities and see what grabs you:
You can decide that you not only lost the love of your life but you have also lost your village — those people you used to be able to count on. You would like to avoid almost everyone whenever possible.
You can take in whatever is coming your way and pretend you are hearing just what you wanted and needed. If anyone asks what they can do, just tell them to keep sharing their stories about people they know who have died.
You can take everyone’s advice and assume they know what is good for you. You spend hours each day on the treadmill to get those good endorphins going, get a Great Dane, take that trip around the world while wondering how to pay the mortgage.
Or, best case scenario, you can take a perspective on the comments of others that reframes these interactions in a way that makes your world a little sweeter and your village of people a loving one even when you are in the depth of grief.
You can remember that just as you may not have known what to say when tragedy hit someone around you, awkwardness in the face of death is part of the human condition. You can let into your heart that there are people who care enough to reach out to you even though they don’t know what to say or how to comfort you. If you see insensitive remarks as words of caring you will feel connection — not confrontation.
As time passes and your ability to interact grows stronger, then you might decide to let others who care know what your real needs are. So, if someone who you believe to be sincere asks what they can do, have a few things in mind that will help you, such as asking for photos of your loved one, favorite memories, phone calls, invitations to movies, restaurants or other events. You might just ask for a hug and give one back.
When you reframe insensitive comments as acts of caring you may not be right all the time but will be most of the time. Seeing those who reach out to you as well meaning can make your world kinder and easier to navigate.
It is balm for heart and soul to be part of a community of people who can hear your deepest feelings and be a source of support in both words and actions. In such a community, the give and take of being both a receiver and a giver of support can be transforming. Hope Connection is that kind of caring place. In that community everyone is going through a recent loss of a life partner. It is a group where communication is nurturing and healing — a welcoming safe place.
Words can touch deep places within, such as in this quote by William James that was featured in the recent edition of KindSpring.org.
“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.”