Sunday, October 24, 2010

Burned By Friendships. Wait! Who's Doing The Burning?

Awhile back, I wrote a blog that I felt sure I was going to get blasted for. Back then, I thought I would lose the 2 people who were actually following it at the time. But, lucky for me, I happened to land with a very understanding bunch that may not have agreed with me, but still kept following the blog.

Either that, or they didn’t know how to take themselves off the list.

I’m finding myself in somewhat the same position now. I’m going to write something that may irritate some, but I’m hoping that even if you don’t’ll understand where I’m coming from.

When it comes to friendship, or any relationship for that matter, and words of comfort...those of us in the Widow World feel like we get burned a lot. A LOT. We can talk for hours about the insensitivity of others and the things we hear from the people we run into every day. I many blogs have I, myself, written on this subject?


Lately, I’ve been trying to think of our group and what we encounter every day...but through the eyes of the people who are trying to support us. And it started to worry me.


We all know that we run into people who are just plain insensitive. They seem to say things, over and over again without thinking. The ones who compare their traveling husbands to our dead ones and say they think we have it easier. The ones who think they would handle this better than we have (and think it’s appropriate to tell us so). And the people who have just flat-out walked out of our lives.

But this blog is not about them.

This is about the people who may not say what we want to hear, but are doing the best they can to help us and be our friends.

Don’t kid yourself. We’re an intimidating bunch. It could depend on the day or my hormone level how I’m going to take what you’re saying to me. some point along the way...we need to give credit where credit is due. For those friends who have stuck by us, stumbling over their words, fearfully looking at our faces to see if we’re going to hug them or hit them...they’re here. They didn’t leave.

Now, I feel like I can say this because I tend to be part of the problem myself. Sometimes I get so distracted by my own feelings about what has been said, that I don’t look at the intent behind it. Was it meant to hurt me? Was it meant to get a “rise” out of me? Was someone saying they hope I find happiness someday...or were they saying “quit yer bitchin’”?

You have to keep in mind, too, that what they’re saying and the way you’re receiving it is very individual...on both ends. As I’ve said before, what one person finds comforting will make someone else want to run them over. They could have said the same “comforting” words to someone else and totally hit their mark. And then said them to you and you’re ready to put Drain-o in their wine.

(On a side note...if you waste a good glass of wine, that could be enough to get you kicked out of the Widow Cult. I’m just sayin’.)

I’ll give you a little example (and this is a pretty mild one). When I first lost my husband, one of the closest people to me would say over and over, “Oh sweetie. This is awful. Awful, awful, awful, awful, awful.

Now, you may not think this is so bad, but it just hit me the wrong way. It made me feel like it was so “awful”...I would never dig my way out of this hole. And it made me want to drive my head through some drywall every time I heard it.

I know the person who said this to me was doing her best to be there for me. She was commiserating with me. She was letting me know that she didn’t take this whole mess lightly. It was in fact...awful.

I mean was.

And because I loved this person, I felt it was okay to say to her, “Please don’t say that anymore. I know what you mean and I know you love me. But it doesn’t make me feel any better.”

Was there an uncomfortable moment of silence? Yes. Did we overcome it? Absolutely.

When we’ve been through a loss like this, and our minds and hearts are reeling, it’s hard to think of other people. We hope that others are thinking of us and that they will step in and us for a little while. But we also have a responsibility, as friends, to say what we need. What works. What doesn’t. They’re not mind readers and, as we say ourselves all the time...most of them have never been through this before. If a relationship can’t withstand that kind of friendly honesty...well...maybe it wasn’t what we thought it was. But if it can...both sides will be the better for it.

And if you’d like to know how I know there are a lot of good friends out should see the emails I get. People get my contact info from the blog or support websites and I get messages like, “My friend just lost her husband. I need to know the best way to support her.”

I don’t know about you...but that sounds like a damn good friend to me.

All I’m trying to say is...if this is someone you’ve known for 15 years and has been your closest friend up until some remark...please really look at what they’re trying to do. Look at the people who have walked away...and the ones who are standing there with you. It takes a brave friend to do that. I know I’ve been moody enough in the last 3 years to completely wipe out my entire “friend population” (would that be friendocide?).

Think of your responsibility, as their friend, to tell them what works for you and what doesn’t. Don’t assume they know...they won’t know until you say it. And wouldn’t it be great to have a friend who knew what to say to you when things got really rough?

I hope that, when you read this blog, it doesn’t hit you the wrong way. That you know that I write it with love in my heart and an attempt at understanding what we’re all going through.

Because that’s certainly the way it’s meant.


  1. Great post. It IS hard to know what to say when some one is really hurting. I've been up against it myself. I remember one time, a friend gave birth to a down-syndrome girl. She was devastated ... finally a girl after a whack of boys and then. I went to visit ... fortunately, I didn't say "the wrong" thing but I sure heard about those who had. I often wondered how I slid through with saying the right thing ... or maybe I didn't say anything and it was just my being there. I don't know but I was commended (by her) at the time!!! Whew, I said, as I walked away wondering how I managed that!

    I did recognize, when people said rather lame things to me after D died, that they meant well, even though some of the things irked me at the time.

  2. Great thoughts! Fellow widow friends are treasures to have---our "combat" buddies!

    I have the best (non widow) friend! She was there the night he died and she stayed with me for the next 24 hours. She keeps up with every date on my calendar that I might struggle with-the anniversary of his death, his birthday, our wedding anniversary. If I don't call for a few days, she "hunts" me down. She even read a book about how to help a grieving friend. Her entire family has taken my boys and I "in." She supports me in my selfish moments/days and she apologizes for not being a better friend---really there is no one better friend in my life than her. My goal is to be a better friend to her.

  3. Thank you, Catherine, for having the courage to say what needed to be said about this very sticky subject ♥

  4. I have tried to tell people this, but I don't have the gift of words you have. As difficult as it is, I totally agree! We need to be careful of not only our friends, but his/her friends and family. They are also hurting. My mother-in-law said to me one time that she had no idea how I felt having never lost her spouse, and I said I didn't know how she felt never have lost a child. We have been able to communicate better ever since.

  5. Catherine,
    As you know from my last email (if you have gotten to it ) I agree with you 200%. It is not always easy to see what the other person is feeling and what they need. Sometimes we can not see past our own feelings. Sometimes we need to accept the fact that the other person is THERE instead of what they do or say! Good job on this post!!!

  6. Well said! I think it's true that we are partially responsible for the relationship problems that arise out of our grief I just haven't known how or when to bring it up with some of our widow friends. I know that when Jeff passed everyone went from seeing an exhausted but loving woman who had through some superhuman strength cared for everyone else rather than herself (least that's what they told me)to a raving crazy woman who could not be consoled or comforted in any way. I think some of our friends were run off by their utter inability to find a way to help me, however NO ONE could have filled that bill. I was sad, hurt, and VERY PISSED off all at once. I do not think that is easy for anyone to deal with and I am certain that it was actually I who hurt peoples feelings while they were only trying to help. Did I mean to do it, NO, did I do it, certainly...Thank you for sharing, it is great food for thought in moving forward and not mourning relationships that changed during what is an amazingly difficult situation for EVERYONE involved.


  7. great post but on a side note... some people just want to be 'important' and do it by running our situations down while making them 'look'in worse situation... we cant help them.
    Others want to "blame" someone for the death and do so to the one closest to the deceased. These are not real friends.
    Yes, we must keep an open... if we can... mind. It is hard to do if the offensive person keeps repeating themselfs.

  8. Years ago it was acceptable to call your kid an idiot or dunce or even your spouse. Your boss could yell at you in front of your coworkers. These were considered the norm. It was normal for all kinds of gestures to take place in the name of motivation. Death is just so hard to accept or talk about,that coaching the public on how to approach is all we can do to change. Every major change that took place in our past was a response to an outlandish reaction to a "normal" action. It was looked at as a rebel cause but hindsight we see it was the only way to make change. Perhaps the funeral home could hand out a card saying..just send a hug...or nothing at all just hug in person. No words needed. Put in help where you see its needed. Cut the grass, and leave. You do not need to announce yoir good deed. Just if they ask say I did it. One day it will be you or your spouse. Last thing you want is for them to have to worry with any of those things. Thank you for your post. These folks rarely mean harm. Our nature is to fix was ails us even if its oiur friend in sorrow. Elaine palos

  9. Thanks Catherine, Sharing with my FB friends. We all need to occasionaly step away and realize that most people are trying to help, and they hate feeling powerless. We American's don't like being told" I appreciate the effort, but there is really nothing you can do." How about, "Don't bring anymore casseroles, unless you are going to cut the grass on your way out!"

  10. You know I could have cut my own tongue out right after my father passed away. In my defense, it was only 33 days after my husband passed, but I said "At least daddy didn't suffer." I didn't mean it, and it didn't help, but then it suddenly struck me that for the last month mom had said some of those things to me and it irked me then, but she didn't know either. I was in grief overload and said my stupid thing. I dig your post, Cath...Until everyone comes to peace with the understanding that just 'being there' is enough and no words are required there will be verbal blunders. But blundering is how we learn.

    I solomly swear never to destroy some widow cult wine in effort to destroy the stupid! LOL!

    Love you Cath, love to all my Widda and Widdar brothers and sisters!