Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Starting "the Rules"

Any NCIS fans out there?

I've become obsessed with this show recently and have watched every episode.  It's pretty great.  Cute boys, strong women, and they always get their man.  It's all tied up in a very neat one hour episode.  Lots of closure.

Well, Gibbs, the main character, has these rules.  I have no idea how many there are, but all of his team has to know his "rules."  They refer to them all the time, by number.  The only example that I can give you is a bad one, but it's "Never Apologize.  It's a sign of weakness."  While I don't agree with this, it's one of the rules that he sets out for his team to live by.  I have no idea how he came up with the list, and I'm pretty sure that the list has developed over time, and that they're not given in order of importance.

This brings me to my point.  There is no widow handbook, or a handbook on how to deal with widows, or people that are grieving, for that matter.  So maybe I can help you all know what is helpful by making my own "Gibb's List" of rules, or maybe we should call them suggestions, for things that you should never say to a widow.  We're all figuring this out as we go, so this will be the first one, but it does not necessarily rank highest in order of importance.

Suggestion, or rule number one:  Never tell her that you understand what she's going through.

Here's the thing:  everyone has had grief in their life.  We're all on the scale.  All grief and loss is important and sad.  I think that it's amazing that people want to empathize with me.  I know that most of the time, people who say these things to me are trying to love me.  I choose to focus on this, but this definitely takes a lot of grace.  We all deal with grief in different ways, and grief is so multi-faceted, that it's just different for everyone.

Even with other widows, even young ones, our experiences are all different.  Some lost their husbands to cancer, so they had time with their husbands to plan what life would be like without him, making their loss different than mine.  Some had children, which for me makes me jealous, that they'll always have a piece of him, but for them maybe has been a huge hardship.  At any rate, we can't compare grief.  We can't keep score (because if we did, I think I obviously would win, but then, when you're in the middle of your painful experience, you probably think that you'll win, too, which is why I think we shouldn't keep score).  But we also can't know what a person is going through, and it's extremely painful when people tell me that they understand.

A friend of mine sent me this quote from Henri Nouwen:

Our brokenness is always lived and experienced as highly personal, intimate and unique. I am deeply convinced that each human being suffers in a way no other human being suffers. No doubt, we can make comparisons; we can talk about more or less suffering, but, in the final analysis, your pain and my pain are so deeply personal that comparing them can bring scarcely any consolation or comfort. In fact, I am more grateful for a person who can acknowledge that I am very alone in my pain than for someone who tries to tell me that there are many others who have similar or worse pain.


  1. What a great quote. I'm now wracking my brain, wondering if I said this particular phrase. The one that killed me was when folks quoted Romans 8:28 to me (And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose). Very few said it to me, probably because they had heard about the first ones, whom I strangled.

  2. Addie, no, it definitely wasn't you. I left our conversation feeling like I could take a deep breath for the first time in a long time. You were such a blessing and a delight. You have no idea how meaningful that conversation was to me. And, you make me laugh. I have not had Romans quoted to me, but I have had the Jeremiah (I think) one quoted, about "I know the plans I have for you...." Gag. I didn't realize strangling was an option.

  3. Please don't say "if there is anything I can do just call me".

    A month after you say this you will dread that call because you know you are going to have to 'talk' to the 'poor widow' and you strangely, you just don't know what to say.

    He existed, he was here, I loved him and he died. You can say his name, I won't collapse in horror.

    Also don't tell me I will 'get over it'. I won't, and now 20 years later I am still 'not over it' but I am used to it. 'It' has become a comforting, everyday part of my life.