A bizarre competition erupted in my former bereavement group. Although united in grief we became divided between those whose husband or wife had died after a long illness, versus those whose spouse had died suddenly. When I volunteered that my husband ‘s final illness lasted for 23 months that had been excruciating for both of us, a woman said bitterly: ”At least you had that time together. We didn’t have the chance to say goodbye.” Her husband had gone to work one day and never returned, a heart attack.
Comments come in reverse, too. I once heard a man who had been a longtime caregiver tell a widow whose husband had died in a car crash, “You’re lucky it was quick.” (Lucky??)
Grief isn’t a competition! Losing someone we love is heartbreaking, whether death was from a long illness or struck unexpectedly. Nor can it be measured by how long our relationship was. I’ve never forgotten a shockingly young widow in our group who told the older women, “You each had a life with your husband. I lost mine a year after our wedding.” The heartless reply was: “You’re young, you can marry again.”
There’s no measuring rod for how much sorrow we’re left with – nor by how many tears we shed. So many times I hear, “I can’t seem to cry,” as though that’s an infirmity.. A friend of mine who had a wonderful marriage for 50 years remained dry eyed when her heloved husband died. “Is there something wrong with me?” she asked. I happen to believe those who can cry are healthier than those carrying pent-up grief inside them. It’s even more difficult for men who were brought up to believe that tears are “unmanly.” (More about that in a future blog.)
At least let’s refrain from comparing our mourning to anyone else’s and refuse to get entangled in senseless rivalry. We can answer envious remarks thrown at us by saying something like,”We’re all in the same boat.” It helps if we recognize that bitterness and anger are usually the result of someone’s pain. We even strengthen ourselves when we’re able to offer comfort rather than combat.
. . . .
Thanks to all of you who sent responses about the inaugural blog. Space doesn’t permit printing all of them, but I want to share two. Dr. Roberta Koepfer of Bayside, New York, applauded the “very sound suggestion ” to ask a “ grieving (sad,depressed,ill lonely) person, ‘What would you like?’or words to that effect.”
Robert Hanson, author of the valuable book “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change”,sent an interesting question: how recently did the pervasive “sorry” for your loss” come into use? I did some research and discovered it’s actually been around for over 50 years, but what brought it into popular usage was TV.! In crime dramas such s NYPD , characters investigating a crime scene began routinely telling the bereaved “sorry about your loss” as a way to show respect without becming emotionally involved .( Proving that help can come our way through surprising “channels”!)
Previous blogs can be found at anne-otations.me and on my website – annehosansky.com.
Relevant books: “Widow’s Walk,” available at iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorrow,”- xLibris.com; “Come and Go” ” -BookBaby.com. Also Amazon and Amazon Kindle.