Perhaps one of the following responses might work. Who knows? “Some days are better than others” or “Getting by.” “I didn’t think it would be like this” or “I’m really lonely.” “I keep waiting for him to come home” or “I talk to him a lot.” “I cry buckets but not in front of people” or “I never went through anything like this.” “I never believed he would die before me, (or more honestly, that he would ever die!) “Sometimes I wonder why I am living without him” or “He was my light and now that light has gone out.”
She reiterated that she is aware and appreciative of how lucky she is to have had a loving husband and solid marriage. So many people don’t. She also knows that everyone who inquires is interested in her and wishes her well. Their desire is to comfort. She just feels so alone. She often wants to be alone even though she says, “I know I shouldn’t and I don’t want to push people away.” “Unless someone is a widow or widower, they don’t have a clue…and even then, our relationship was so unique that I wonder how many people really know how I feel.” When someone says, “I know how you feel” I actually feel myself pulling away.
Maybe next time, when asked, she will say, “It’s very complicated and I see this process takes time.”
Maybe next time, the people who are inclined to ask “How are you?” will say instead, “I am thinking of you and know this is far from an easy time” or “My favorite memory of him is…”, or “I don’t know the right words to comfort you but I do want you to know that I care about you and feel for you.” Folks need not feel they MUST come up with the “RIGHT” words because there may not be any at this moment. It could just be sitting together, or something that shows they have compassion for where she is. She does not want to feel pressure to say she is feeling or doing anything other than what she is feeling or doing, and sometimes, she does not even want to share that with anyone.
It’s complicated and private.
But it is good to know that people care.
Thankyou for the tips on meeting a friend or acquaintance who has lately lost a spouse. That happens to me a lot now that I am 80! I appreciate having some thoughtful conversation openers which the friend can take further or remain quiet on.
Because my husband has Alzheimers, I often get a response from those in mourning which acknowledges my difficult situation as well as my concern for them. That has taught me not to keep silent as all of us want to reach out to others no matter our own situation.
As a caregiver, I am very worried about when a significant change in my husbands condition or my health or finances will necessitate his going into a care facility. Does anyone have some advice for living with or through this possibility ?
Thank you for this comment. Yes, there is a freedom that often comes with sharing what our life circumstance is. Hopefully someone can relate and being in that “space” with them can offer solace for the moment. And sometimes, information that can be helpful, particularly when dealing with illness. There are many personal accounts of people who have grappled with the decision of placing their loved one (often a spouse or parent) into an assisted living facility with specific care and training for people who have Alzheimer’s and other forms of Dementia. Guilt and burnout factor in however you mentioned something that is rarely discussed…the ABILITY to maintain a level of care because of your own health, financial situation or your husband’s declining health. The safety and requirements of the patient AND the caregiver are so important. Some of the websites where this conversation happens are:
Thank you for the piece on “Think Before You Ask How Are You”. I live in a retirement community as a result of which I would suggest that your piece can be applied as well to those with health issues, which may not be apparent to an observer, as to grievers.
Many older people are in pain, chronic or spasmodic, but do not wish to express this, nor its related aspects. While you make the very good point that we can learn responses that are more comfortable for us, I have learned to make a statement, when greeting such people, like, “Hello, how nice to see you”, to alleviate, if possible, putting them on the spot.
It’s interesting to see how a simple, “how are you” is an easy way to initiate social intercourse when we are younger becomes charged as we get older! Life is a learning curve to the end.