Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Stupid, Unfeeling, Hurtful Things People Say

I am sure those of us facing losses through death have our lists of the dumb things people have said to us. My top three come from the FIRST WEEK following my husband's death and are as follows:

1. "Everyone has to die sometime."

2. "I know lots of single moms and they seem to be managing just fine on their own."

3. "Your kids are going to be great "latch-key" children!" (The boys were just nine and ten and were afraid to be alone in the house even during the day!)

Now I have a new comment to add to these zingers. It was said to me on Easter by my brother-in-law, whom I really like. His comment was made after I was updating my family as to my financial status and the very real possibility of my losing the house to foreclosure. I also briefly related my sadness over my divorce. He glibly replied that my life if better than any individual's living in Africa so I should find comfort/solace in that.

I was pretty amazed at his choice of words and logic. I replied that of course I recognize that my life is more fortunate than those living in other countries. Over the past weeks his comment has sat with me in an unsettling way. I brought it up to my therapist who provided insight with the reflection that it wasn't a very empathic thing to say.

That I think is what is most important when throwing in your two cents to those who are grieving. First and foremost acknowledge their feelings (where they are right then and there in regard to the situation). By bypassing any acknowledgment of my current situation, my brother-in-law ended by negating my emotions and making me feel bad for even having them. After all, if my life if better than others living in poverty around the world, how can I really feel bad about anything going on in my life?

What he could have said was "I'm so sorry for the hardship you're experiencing." Or, "this must be difficult for you right now." That is all that was needed. Nothing more, nothing less. Now I unfortunately cannot get images of poverty stricken individuals out of my mind. And I feel terribly guilty for worrying about losing my house.


  1. A few months after my 2nd husband died, my 1st husband lured my youngest son back to live with him with the promise that he would buy him a car. That meant that not only would I not receive child support, I would be required to PAY IT! Paying for the loss of my child was abhorrent to me, but I had no choice. When I told to my ex that I didn’t know if I could manage it: I had a house payment, a car payment, the life insurance was a whopping $50,000 and it had cost over $20,000 to bury him (he died overseas and the expenses were enormous) and my income had just been slashed by more than 50%. His response was “most women would envy your situation.” The only thing enviable about my situation was that I was no longer married to him! I believe in Karma and eternal justice and he will be called on to answer for that one.

  2. That is an unbelievable comment! Utterly crazy to think that most women would envy your situation! Having your son lured to live with this guy must have been painful beyond words. It appears that you handled the situation with true grace and dignity. I am truly in awe of those who can rise above such difficulties. How long ago did it occur? How are things with your youngest son now?

  3. It happened his first year of high school (2006)and he graduates in nine days. He has survived, but he didn't understand at all when I told him recently (mother's day) that I didn't think I had finished with him, that I had had to give him up too soon. I don't think he ever will understand until he is a father himself.