January 27, 2010

A Short Post: Talking to Widows 101

I ran into an elderly aquaintance yesterday who recently lost her husband. After chatting for a few moments about something unrelated, I became still, looked into her eyes and asked, "So how are you doing?"

Her eyes flashed and she shook her head with the utmost impatience. Then she wagged her finger at me and cried in her heavy Dutch accent, "You must not say that!"

I, taken aback, replied sheepishly, "Okay..."

"Every day someone comes up to me and asks me (and with a great imitation of someone mourning, she hunched her shoulders forward and pulled down the corners of her mouth) 'So HOW are you DOING'. It makes me crazy because if they say it like that it will just make me more depressed."

"Okay, so what should we say?" I asked, laughing.

"You should say 'GOOD DAY!' because if you say 'good day' then I might start believing it is so!"

How about that!


  1. Nevertheless, I think you did the right thing asking her -- but it was good that she could say straight out to you how it makes her feel. And if you hadn't asked, you wouldn't have known.

    My boss and friend of 16 years just lost his father, and I hadn't seen him for a week as I was traveling that week and he immediately went to Oklahoma to be with his family. So once I saw him, I too asked, So how ARE you? He was doing fine, but clearly he liked being asked because he talked for a while about the whole process of dealing with his family. It allowed him to say what was on his mind. Just as asking her allowed her to say how the grieving process was affecting her. Better to say something, especially something caring, as you did.

  2. Well, you can hardly start off with congratulations, now can you. Still, I think that this is one for the Sisters. Men would not say anything. Mostly because we would not think of it. But even if we did, if the woman was not visibly winged in some way I doubt we would ask. A nod, or if family, a hand would be stuck out, griped quickly and returned to its proper position as rapidly as possible.

  3. I remember asking a teacher (in some kind of pastoral lesson at school) 'but what if they tell you to go away when you ask them if they need help?', and she said 'at least they will know that someone cared enough to ask'.

    Now you can say 'Good day' to her and you and she will both know what you mean! I guess your question gave her the chance to say something really heart-felt, didn't it?

  4. She sounds live a very wise woman indeed.

  5. I will just make one very grateful comment to all: the next time I see the woman in question I will say as cheerfully as I can, 'good day', but if I meet with another widow I will have to risk her/his displeasure by asking 'So how are you doing?' and start all over again, because, as you say, Vince, I can hardly start with congratulations! :)

    Thank you all, as always. Rebecca

  6. Lovely story, Rebecca! It is hard to know what to say, isn't it? Because everyone deals with grief in different ways. But it's important to say something!

  7. It is important to let people know that we care. I think you handled it exactly right.

  8. i do believe she has a valid point.

    ps; i love your fishies. ;)

  9. Thank-you Ciara and Jen. I just thought it was such an interesting thing for her to say, and I had to share it!

    E.P. If you put your cursor on the blue part the fishies will come to it :)


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!