Saturday, February 16, 2008

Things I/We Didn't/Don't Need to Hear

OK, buckle your seat belts. And please, please, please remember -- I have no memory of who said what. Please don't put that onto me or yourselves. This is not to make ANYONE feel badly. It's just what I've learned and have been told to pass on. I think most of us are doing this for the first time. And like parenting, we don't always get it right the first time.
And, like parenting, this is done in love.

1. This is the most important item and I cannot stress it enough: "I understand." or "I know what you're going through."
No. You. Don't.
You can't. The loss you have suffered is yours and yours alone. It's interesting but every single widow who spoke to me never, ever said those words. My relationship was unique and mine. No one else can possibly understand the depth of pain and despair that I feel.
This brings me to #2 -- which is from my children.
2. "I lost my father, too." Not only does it not help because every relationship is unique, but it also turns the attention to YOU. When you're shaking a mourner's hand at a funeral or a visitation and you say, "I lost my father, too", or "I lost my _______(fill in the blank") then the mourner feels compelled to say, "Oh, I'm so sorry." and the whole reason for the event is lost. Bad, bad, bad idea.
3. "God has a plan." REALLY??? Because at that moment in time, I didn't give a damn. And neither did my children. The plan, whatever it was, sucked.
4. "God must've needed Jim for work in Heaven." Again, REALLY????? I don't think so -- God seemed to be doing quite alright on His own. WE needed Jim here. We STILL need Jim here.
5. "At least he's no longer suffering." Let's get this straight -- Jim wasn't suffering -- at least not until 4:00 a.m. on December 17th. And then he got meds and felt quite relaxed. He would have rather suffered some more and stayed here. And I'm sorry, but being the selfish person that I am, I would have rather had him suffer more and still be here.
6. "This has made me appreciate my dad more." Yes, someone said that to one of the kids.
7. "Merry Christmas."
8. "How was the cruise?" I'm sorry, what?! It sucked. Although that's not we said. We said, "It was O.K."
9. "Call me." This also goes along with "Call me if you need anything." People who are grieving don't usually call. They are just trying to breathe. And they don't know what they need, other than the loved one who is gone. Don't ask me to call. Call me. Come sit with me. Just sit.
10. "How are you?" You really don't want to know, so try not to ask.
11. Also from the kids, "Your dad lovED you very much." They know that he STILL loves them very much.
12. This is one that I really struggled with but I think everyone wants me to be open and very honest here. So here it is:
Try very, very hard to not write a Bible verse on a card. As one of my daughters said, "If you're not a Christian then you look at the card and think 'why the hell would someone write that to me?!' and if you are a Christian you think, 'Why the hell would someone write that to me --- I already know that." The first days are not the time to be reminded of God's love because it doesn't feel like He's very loving.
13. "Hang in there."
14. "This is going to be a very difficult Christmas for you." You think?!!!
15. "What can I do for you?" This goes along with #9. Again, I can't think past the fog in my brain and the pain wracking my body, heart and soul. I have no idea what you can do. This is where the "just sit" comes in. Jewish people "sit shiva" when someone is grieving. They go to their house and just sit. They talk if the griever feels like talking. They don't if she/he doesn't. The important thing is, they are there. Very important.
16. This has also been a difficult one to include but here it is:
"God never gives you more than you can handle." To that I say B.S. I don't agree with that - at - all. God gives us a whole lot of crap that we can't handle. Trust me. And I don't agree with that theology. I read that verse as saying "God won't TEMPT you beyond what you can bear. And when you are TEMPTED He will provide a way out'." The only temptation that I had was the desire to off myself in the early days. But God did give me the loss of Jim -- and it's way more than I can handle. Just because I'm alive doesn't mean I'm handling it. Try to never, ever, ever say that to someone who's lost someone. Ever.
17. "You're young .. you can find love again." There are no words for that one. None.
18. "Trust in God." - when someone gets knocked to the ground by God, there's going to be a trust-issue. Trust me.
19. No one has asked me this directly but I guess some people have worried that I'm on meds and that I joke around about alcohol. Really?! Because even if I were drunk &/or higher than a kite most days --- could you blame me?! And to put everyone's mind at rest (or not -- think what you want to think) - I doubt that I could play tennis, work, write in a blog, or converse with my children if I were drinking every day or taking more than an anti-depressant and a sleeping aid every day (which are both prescribed by my doctor). So I'm not overly depressed and I sleep at night. Find someone else to worry about.
20. And the coup de grace, the ultimate thing I didn't need to hear and the only one I have vividly in my mind and know exactly who said: 'I am the reason Jim was successful. Let me handle your money. You owe me.' --- or something to that effect.

Now, to end on a positive note:

The Things I/We Needed/Need to Hear

1. "There are no words."
2. "You are constantly in my thoughts and prayers."
3. "I am so angry at God."
4. "This sucks."
5. "I love you."
6. "My heart aches for you."
7. "I'm sorry that I never got to know/meet him because he sounds like an incredible man."
8. Any time someone shares a memory of Jim.
9. "Can I come over?"
10. Any time a man cried in front of us. It sounds strange, but we need to know how much Jim meant -- especially to men.


K in AK said...

Wow J-I just re-lived my Dad's funeral! LOL
We love you. We miss Jim (Uncle Jim) incredibly. This does SUCK. Still.
Michael has an "Uncle Jim" story to share...I am sure he will call soon.
K in AK


J - I love you! You're absolutely right, there are no words, and this does suck! Now, then, and forever!! I hear your anger, and you have a right to be angry at what has happened. It sucks, is awful and heartbreaking and I am broken hearted for you and all your family - and Jim's. And what I love even more about you is that even in the pain you are suffering, you care so much about people - that you emphasize how you don't remember who said what, and you don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I love that about you. You're an amazing brave and inspiring human being and I and glad to know you. And I do wish I had an opp to meet Jim, beacuse he seems like an incredible man in so many ways. And you guys ARE constantly in my thoughts and prayers - so much that I fear I'm becoming obsessive compulsive! ;) Love Wendee

Daughter # 3 said...

Another thing not to say is anything along the lines of, "fall in love with Him", "lean on Him", etc, etc, etc.

That's even worse than the Bible verses. My dad just died... the last thing I want from you is some cheesy Christian cliche.

I think it's important to emphasize here that it's okay to say NOTHING or to admit that you don't know what to say. That is good.

NO ONE knows what to say when this happens, which splits people into two groups:

Group 1 is made up of the people who don't know what to say so they just don't say anything.

Group 2 is made up of people who don't know what to say, so they BS it. When you BS it, you say something stupid.

It is also NOT good to just ignore someone when they talk about their lost loved one. If I mention my dad even casually or in a funny story, many people just pretend like I said nothing. Seriously. When the awkward silence gets long enough they think they can change the subject without me noticing. But here's the thing... I noticed.

If I share a funny story about my dad, laugh with me. If you know my dad, tell me a funny story about him.

So those are my tips. Basically we should all just return to the Jewish tradition of sitting shiv'ah. Follow the lead of the person who is grieving. If they are silent, be silent. If they are talking, listen and talk back. If they are laughing, laugh with them. That is how to help someone mourn.

K in Ak said...

D #3, I learned that just a simple "I'm sorry" goes a
L O N G way.
K in AK and Uncle Michael

Mom said...

Daughter #3 is sooooo wise. I do believe I can take some of the credit for that, too. ;) Everyone needs to print out the rules and keep them handy just in case. Things that are good to know. Thanks for sharing. I love you lots and miss you terribly.

Anonymous said...

I only met Jim once. That was at your house. You had all of steering over for dinner. We all thought your smoothie maker was neat. At one point he came in and you introduced all of us to him. That was a nice evening. D2 or D3 played the harp for us.

My heart does ache for you.

Lisa B.

your sister said...

No way someone said #17!! CRAZY! Oh well, I love you chicky! I am so excited to be there with you and just sit, talk, laugh...whaterver. When I am there we need to find #20 and kick their butt! LOL JK! (NOT) See ya in 21 days! PJ party and monkey bread!!!

Jennifer said...

Janine, you crack me up! You looked hot in the Swarthy video, by the way...(is that okay to say???)

Love, and thinking of you lots,


Anonymous said...

I joked once that I have to keep my feet pedicured because I am always sticking them in my mouth. It's not really a joke. For the stupid things I have said, I am sorry. For all the stupid things I will say in the future, I am sorry. I love all of you and my heart is aching terribly for you. Please know that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. I breathed a sigh of relief. I will print out and keep handy.


Julie said...

Thank you for the What Not To Say and the What You Need To Hear lists. Your strength comes through in your writing. #2 "You are constantly in my thoughts and prayers."

Anonymous said...

J, you are amazing. Your words on paper or in this case on my screen are so powerful. Thank you so much for sharing.

Moni B

Anonymous said...

Hi Janine,

I'm probably of the group that fails to say anything because I don't know what to say. I will say that I read your blog every day....I love you all and miss you and the kids are always in my thoughts....and even over a year after moving away, you continue to teach me and are an inspiration to me. You taught me at MOPS and now you are teaching me lessons that I know I will use for the rest of my life. You are right. There are no words, it stinks, it's not fair, it's impossible to understand, and I know we all wish we could change what happened.

I miss you dearly and just wanted you to know you are always on my mind and in my heart.

Love to all, Jenni Baeder

Lisanne said...

Wellll...I'm pretty sure that I said at least one of those things. The thing is...when someone you love is hurting so feel the's human want to make the pain go away. We can't, but we want to try, so we say stuff. You're right. When someone has lost a child, a parent, a spouse...they DON'T know just how you feel. But their grief is ongoing too and they need to connect,,,and they want to help because they know that your heart hurts so badly. It's NOT the same thing that they feel, but the pain is there for both of you.
So...I'm guilty of at least one of the "bad" list, and several of the "good list". I'll definitely watch my words more carefully now:)
Either way,...I love you and you're on my mind every day.


Little Bro said...

Well I'm guilty of #8 but there was a stipulation with the question that may negate me from #8. I said something to the effect of, "All things considered, how was the cruise?" Maybe not, but oh well, ya learn as you go. I think I'm also guilty of #10, but I'm pretty sure when I ask, I REALLY want to know. Maybe I'm asking so you can vent if you need to, I dunno. But on a positive note I have said numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, (I wish I could say #9) and I HAVE CRIED in front of you(and behind you at the service). Heck, I may have even cried in front of Daughter #3 the night we talked. I don't really remember because she kept me up so late. =) So I'm goin' off on a limb and saying that all of my positives make up for the couple of stupid negative ones.

Anyway, K & I are working on our own blog site, so we'll let you know when it's up and running. You're ALL invited to visit. Oh and (I have to say the name or it won't be clear) Kim said something about everyone coming to AK to visit?? Well bring it on sista'! The wife and I enjoy nothing more that entertaining guests up here. Just ask my sis J...when they visited last year, they came in on the same day my wife's family was to leave. So for a while we had the 6 from my side, who stayed 10 days, and the 2 from her side, who stayed 10 days, along with the 4 of us and three dogs. After that, a friend of mine and his family of 4 stayed at our house, for 4 days, followed by my dad and step-mom, who stayed for 10 days, and finally another one of the wife's brother came in with his G/F, and they stayed for 8 days. And EVERYONE stayed at our house!!! We were exhausted after the summer was over?? You bet your sweet pa-tooty we were, but we wouldn't have changed it for the world. WE HAD A BLAST!! So like I said, bring it on sista'! And any of you other people, if you know my sis J, and you want to visit AK with a free place to stay with some pretty good cookin' by my wife and I(or some really good restaurants =) give us a call. But not this summer...May 29-June 8 my bud from back home is coming with his daughter, July 3RDish my dad is coming for 10 days and 15 July our family is going to Chicago to visit the wife's family for 10 days. The summer is so short here (May 1STish to July 31STish) so we can only squeeze in so many people each summer. But, we have 2009, 2010 and 2011 summers left. So any takers, get with J!!! That includes all of you I met in Houston at my sis' house. Now that I took up the whole blog space, I guess I'll get for now.

Just remember J, I know there are no words that I can say to help your situation and even though I am angry at God right now you are all constantly in my thoughts and prayers. And because I love you soooo much, my heart is aching for you. It was an honor and privilege to know Jim for the last 25? years and I'll never forget the time Jim asked me to have lunch with him at a Chinese restaurant in Tulsa on 15th street. Even though I was going through what I was going through(most of you know what I speak of) he didn't judge me. We just had lunch and talked! Every time I think of him, the only feeling I feel, beside grief, is PEACE. He was so peaceful. I wish I could come over and sit and talk/laugh/cry with and/or in front of you, but unfortunately that won't be any time soon.

Love ya sis!!
Little Bro

Anonymous said...


I'm sure I have been one of the ones who said something wrong. You also know me well enough that if I did/do, you can tell me to shut up or show me "the list"!!

You are all constantly in our prayers.

A & M

Michelle said...

Wow...this is my first time seeing your blog, and I have spent a lot of time here reading. I am so glad you posted your lists of what you didn't want to hear and what you needed to hear--those are lists that should be published in major magazines and talked about on major news shows to get the word out to more people. The lists are perfect, they include what needs everyone should know.

I don't know you personally, but please know that you and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers. I hope that you continue along your healing journey and can post and share.