words matter

Stranger: “Lovely weather we’re having!”
Me: “Yeah, it is! Did I mention I’m a widow?”

I want to throw it like confetti into almost every conversation I have with anyone and everyone.
Don’t get me wrong, not for the sympathy.
But genuinely, as a disclaimer…

As to say, please excuse me if I seem on edge, unhinged or absent-minded.
Please, forgive me, excuse me, if I genuinely can’t remember …anything.
Widow brain, like pregnancy brain, is real.
I’ve had pregnancy brain and this one, by far, takes the cake as most debilitating.
I am not joking one bit when I say, I feel like widowhood is its own mental illness.

Please excuse my distance, erratic emotions and maybe even emotional outbursts.
It may or may not have anything to do with you, and I assure you, it will pass.
And I’ll come out of it momentarily. Or maybe not at all, who really knows.
You’re playing roulette when you’re talking to me, really.

Conversations can be awkward, for both of us. And I don’t say that to be negative, I’m just calling them what they are. I have said this before but, we all don’t know what to say … I can’t speak for all of us, but there are certainly things that make me, a widow, cringe.

(Just as a plea to the world: can we do more listening than talking?
Or at least give real pause before we speak? If it doesn’t bring true value to the arena, can we then keep it to ourselves,  or is that too much to ask anymore?
What is that quote… “before you speak, let your words pass through 3 gates. Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
Yes. More of that.)

So on that note, I’ll be honest here…

“Oh, I’m so sorry.” (aka I don’t know what the hell to say..)
I can imagine how you feel.” (Like hell you do.)
“You’re young, you’ll move on.” (I really have NO WORDS for this response…)
“At least you have your whole life ahead of you still.” (^ Ditto.)
“I’m sorry to hear that, how did he die?” (Have you no social skills!?)

In no particular order, I believe, are the most ineffective sympathies I have personally heard.
And yes, I’ve been told/asked all 5.

Surely some more cringe-worthy than others.
Obviously when there’s a loss for what to say we always refer to, “I’m so sorry,” in many circumstances, right. I’m not trying to shame people who say this… theres perspective to be shared here.
My blood boils with numbers 3 & 4.
Appalling, people (fellow widows, in fact, have expressed those particular opinions) would think those are an adequate comfort.
But alas, apparently… since I am “young”… this all should make perfect sense and my age and how long we were together determines one’s ability and timeline to “move on.” Unreal…

This makes my heart race to recount, to place myself back in this delirium, its caused me anxiety. I still feel it almost daily, especially if I see an ambulance or something reminds me and places me in that day. No, he wasn’t sick. He wasn’t dying, I didn’t suffer by his side nights and days in a hospital. I was given no warning. I didn’t watch as his body betrayed him and whither away in the throws of illness.
He was robbed of his life and from his girls. In a moment. A reckless, thoughtless moment, it was all it took. His mind betrayed him before his body did.

It was the very morning, the very day.
I was sitting in my dad’s truck, parked down the street, for what felt like an entire day, by myself, after seeing and having to leave his lifeless body on the floor of my parent’s home.

I wasn’t able to go near him or touch him, even while the paramedics worked on him, or after they left and the medical examiner came in and took over, assuming duty over “the scene”….like he was an object, not a person anymore.
I sat there, alone, before my friend finally came to sit with me, and was with me when a woman with the medical examiner came to the truck to give me his ring and I had to sign something, I don’t even remember what it was.
I came undone…
Why was I getting this back? No. I gave it to him, its his. Please don’t give this back to me. Why are you giving this back to me? This isn’t mine. Its his. This ring is his. Why isn’t he wearing it and home with me?
I couldn’t catch my thoughts or breath.

I sat there, going in and out of hyperventilating and trying to self-soothe.
I would watch the house, hoping it wasn’t real, hoping for a miracle, and turn away… literally out of sight, but failed attempts to stay out of mind.
This couldn’t possibly be it.
I can’t begin to explain the suffocating knots in my throat, lungs, heart, stomach, LIFE.

There is nothing that prepares you or comforts you in a moment like that. Nothing. Not one hug, embrace, look, word, nothing. You’re alone. By yourself. In manic devastation. And surprised at how you’re handling it. At least I was. And am. Why didn’t I burn the house down? Why didn’t I get in my dad’s truck and immediately go haul ass off a bridge??
You’re alone. In your mind that is frantically trying to scramble for an explanation.
You’re exposed. You’re sitting in what is the most raw, vulnerable state of emotional life you’ve ever experienced.
My wedding day couldn’t have prepared me for this. Our vows, the looks we exchanged, our worst fights, our most hopeless of days. Nothing led here.

It truly felt like someone was holding up a vacuum to me and my soul was being sucked right out of my body.
I just watched… as the coroners walked in and later, exited with his body. My sweet husband.
The life we lived, the moments we have, the intimacies we shared, the memories of this life with him… this is on another level of baffling that I even have this kind of memory now in my Shayne file folder in my brain.

You don’t know what the worst day of your life will look like… how gruesome or ruthless to your heart and soul it will be. And when its happening, you aren’t even sure if you’re in the correct body or much less, universe.
My head can’t comprehend how excruciatingly confusing this all is, this is my truth, this was it?

My dad finally drove me home, and as I walked back in the door, my legs failed me and I collapsed on the ground just beyond the threshold. I’ll never forget the way my Dad reacted.
Somehow in my bewildered stupor I was picking up on his reaction.
He sounded irritated at me for being so careless in front of the girls, he said, “C’mon, get up.”
And I thought, even then, why is he being so cruel right now? Let me physically do what my mind wants to be right now, and feels: lifeless.
I’m not sure if he remembers this or felt irritated the way I heard him, but I realize now… he didn’t want to see me falling apart, collapsing, his heart was breaking for me. But he has and did come to my rescue in more ways than one. What parent wants to see their child go through this… and help pick them up off the floor?

I had moved onto the couch and in a daze, watching television.
I requested the TV be on, for whatever reason I felt inclined to have the mindless noise and distraction. My mind felt a mile high above my body.
I was there, but I wasn’t.

I was not present. I was in my mind, busy.
Busy asking questions to someone who wasn’t there.
Busy trying to make sense of what I had just seen, heard and experienced.
Busy, creating scenarios and logic. Trying to shuffle through a lifetimes worth of thoughts, feelings and emotions, surely, unknowingly, making room for a monster to take up residence: grief.

In my mind I was trying to look for him, like searching for his soul to come answer me, meet me somewhere, tell me what is happening.
I remember I kept wondering, where are you? Where are you, REALLY!?

When I couldn’t take anymore numbing tv, and I knew I needed to release my overflowing bucket of emotion, I went and hid in our guest bathroom.

I called my dear friends and asked them if I could sit on the line and listen to them pray over me. Just listen to a stream of prayer. Something I felt I needed.
Once I was done listening, I sat on the floor near the toilet and just cried my soul out and let the downpour completely overwhelm.
I couldn’t catch my breath, my heart and mind were so disconnected I couldn’t tell where I ended or began. That other half, my other half, was gone.

I felt half dead and trying desperately to revive it with tears and outpouring, a plea — but I’m still here! Please come back! Surely the more I cried and released, somehow I’ll come to life, something will resolve, please, my other half come back to life and prove this all wrong.

I was weeping and knew anyone on the other side of that door could probably hear me but I didn’t care, I couldn’t.

My step mom entered the bathroom upon knocking, I certainly could have denied her entry and sat there alone, but I let her in. She sat on the toilet seat and said something that I didn’t know I needed to hear in that moment.
She told me a short anecdote of her own personal loss, just enough detail to make it feel real and honest and relevant, but not as a comparison.
And shared with me something in her first hours of loss that someone told her, “This sucks.”
And thats that.
In the moment I wasn’t really thinking about what she was saying, it was only hours after I saw Shayne on the floor. I had a hurricane of thoughts wrecking my mind.
But thats one of those moments I always refer to when people ask or say, “What is there to say?”
Theres really nothing else as poignant to say.
Variations. With or without curse words.
But at least for me, what has become the most comforting words anyone can say.

“This sucks, he’s supposed to be here.”

Because they aren’t trying to place themselves into your equation.

They’re recognizing the fucked-upery and saying,
“I see it. I feel it. And lets not ruin this with what I’m trying to bring to the table. Because I’m sure you can know how sad this makes me to see you sad. But I don’t need to bring mine to your table, you have yours and what yours is right now, is enough. I’m sure you know how sad for you and him and your family I feel, and to lose this most important person to your life. I recognize that, and what I got for this bullshit is, this sucks.”
It encompasses it ALL.
Your sympathy, your deep sorrow, your frustration, genuine concern.
It covers it, and all it says is, I recognize (not understand, or imagine, or feel) how devastating this is and I don’t have the adequate words, nor anyone ever, to help you feel this pain any less.

I’m sorry for your loss… it even sounds like you’re about to shake my hand, like you’re about to take my last chip at the Blackjack table.
You tell people you’re sorry when you lie to them, accidentally bump into them in the airport or drop a glass in a restaurant.

At least in my perspective, authenticity is what feels most comforting.

Generic statements and being spoken to like a sympathy card feels even more uncomfortable and burdensome.
Filling the air with cliches makes it feel like what I’m going through is like just any other time, any one else has ever died.
No, what I am feeling is very unprecedented and new to me.
And real. And hurts. Real bad.
And unlike anything anyone has ever felt before.
Because he was unlike anyone else ever before.
And what we shared, had and felt between us was unlike anyone else ever before.
Its just too devastating for “I’m so sorry.”

But when they do say it, I understand their need to console and respond with, “Me, too.”

My suggestion? Console with truth.

Words matter, but even more important listening matters.
We may have certainly forgotten how to listen, haven’t we.
As seen on public display in recent weeks and social events… people seem to be forgetting how imperative it is to listen to each other.

Truthfully, one of the most highest compliments and things you can do for me is not only love on our girls, but talk to me and be inquisitive about Shayne.
Ask about our life. Our love. And just listen.

If you’re speaking to a widow or someone who is grieving and don’t know what to say or don’t feel familiar enough to comment, be so bold and show your compassion, ask about their loved one.
Don’t ask them how they died. (By the way, honestly, such poor taste).

Ask them when their birthday was or their favorite music.
Ask them what they loved most about their spouse.
Ask them what their favorite memory was.
For God’s sake, ASK THEM, about this wonderful person they felt so deeply for.
Don’t be afraid to engage in conversation revolving around this person they loved.
The worst I feel we can do is neglect to talk about them, avoid conversation about them because we assume its too painful or uncomfortable.
Who’s discomfort are you thinking about when you choose not to ask about this wonderful person they no longer get to live with?

Just because we talk about Shayne, doesn’t mean I am thinking the whole time about his death or those moments that day. I don’t necessarily want to discuss the day he died, or how, but that is not the only thing I remember about him!
That day does not define him. Or us. Or his life. Or our life together. Or his legacy.

The most caring, thoughtful thing someone could possibly do is not say they’re sorry, not share with me how strong they think I am, but… ask me about Shayne. How I knew him, how we met, how we loved, how we laughed, things he liked, jokes he made, things he said.

And let me talk, laugh, cry and share him and the amazing memories and impact he made on my life.

How he taught me everything I know about loving and being loved in return, patience and grace, communicating and never settling.
Our adventures over 10 years that took us to 3 different states and 10 moves.
A handful of jobs, travels, struggles.
Resilience. Adaptation.
That time we lived in a trailer on a nursery property or the time we lived in Chicago and had a Kermit the Frog green kitchen.
How I made “mucho gracias” signs for our wedding thank you cards, and he didn’t want to tell me I spelled it wrong, he didn’t want to make it a big deal then or make me feel bad.


I love talking about him, saying his name and laughing AND crying about everything we did and felt together.

People feel sad and sorry and devastated about the death but that doesn’t mean we need to stop confronting our feelings, whatever they are, and stop talking about that person because it might lead to someone shedding tears or feeling sad or even, angry.
Then we’re letting the grief win. Lets not allow it to win.
Their love, our love for them wins. They still matter. Our love for them still matters.
These words and stories we tell matter.

Just because he’s not here doesn’t mean I am ready to stop talking about him and feeling like he is not apart of my every day.
He is. Very much.
I’m not ready to stop making him matter.




3 thoughts on “words matter

  1. Crying reading this! All this time and this still resonates so strongly with me. I am beyond thankful for your words, your heart, and your reminders that take me back to place of healing and so much love. Thank you friend ❤


  2. C, this post. It’s so hard to know what to say. Even a similar situation is not the same situation. But your guide to listen and ask not about what happened but remembering more about this loved person should have been common sense. But I appreciate so much more knowing now. Knowing how I can communicate my sorrow to you while reading and learning more about this incredible soul mate of yours. ❤ love you.


  3. So real, and beautifully written. Death of someone so profound and dear makes us wordless as the time. Someone can say one thing and you’re a basket of either happy or sad. It’s just hard. 99% of the time hard. That 1% is knowing they don’t want is to be sad

    Thank you, Caroline!!!


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