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When someone asks, and they don’t know

When we lose a loved one, our whole world can be transformed in an instant. We know that they have gone, and those in our inner circles most likely have been informed of the event that has changed our world. However, try as we may, not everyone we encounter after our loss may know. 

Without knowing about the loss, these people may ask how your person is doing or inquire about them. This can be shocking or make you feel overwhelmed. It can be awkward for both of you.

Jeni’s first encounter with this occurred ten days after Bob’s death and seven days after his funeral. 

Her Story–

I had always been involved with my alumni association. However, my husband was not a people person and had never attended any of the events with me. My colleagues even joked that I wasn’t actually married–I had simply bought a ring and changed my name. 

That year, I had been selected to receive a very high award from the alumni and Bob had finally agreed to attend the event with me. On the day he passed, I set out some clothes that I wanted him to wear to the event. These would end up being the clothes I sent to the funeral home.

A week after his funeral, I took my mother with me to the event as she often was my companion at alumni events. My colleagues met me, excited to finally meet my husband and asked for introductions. I was stunned. How could they not know? 

What should have been the highlight of my time with the association became one of the most difficult nights. I left the explanations to my mother as I ran time and again to the bathroom to either compose myself or deal with my nerves and grief.

I wish that I had understood that others may not be aware of what had happened, as it would have prepared me a little better for that night. Even so, less than a month from his passing, I was still trying to get through the day-to-day. Looking back, the fact that I even had the fortitude to attend the event amazes me. Like we always say, you have to give yourself credit for even the smallest of victories. For me, attending that event was huge, and I have to admire my strength even if I was struggling.

Teresa – has an extremely awkward and uncomfortable encounter over a year later. 

Her story –

I was walking out of the school parking lot to grab a quick bite during my lunch break and literally ran into an old family friend I hadn’t seen in years. We crashed into each other and were both startled and happy to see each other and embraced in a big hug. I assumed her hug was a grief comfort. I was so wrong. 

We’d known this family for over 15 years and spent lots of time with them socially. Our husbands played soccer together before we had kids. Our kids knew each other sort of, and mine were a few years older. We both had moved to different parts of the Austin area and lost touch. A couple of years prior, we had reconnected at a friend’s 40th birthday party with the intention of getting together. Life was busy, and that never happened.

First, she asked about the kids, and I replied, “Doing as well as can be expected, it’s been hard.”

She looked at me, confused. My thoughts were, oh no, she had no clue. How can she not know? Do I tell her?

I blurted out quickly, “Um, yeah, you know Kris died on a motorcycle in October last year, right?

She proceeded to scream and burst out into tears, screaming,  “No, no, no, oh my God!”. She fell to the ground.

I stood there, not really sure what to do, tears streaming down my face. I let her cry, sat down on a bench, and guided her to it. We both sat and cried and hugged for a long while.

She then asked all the questions about how and what happened. Luckily, it was over a year out, and I could talk about it and share the news. I didn’t know how to comfort her because she felt so bad she didn’t know and hadn’t been there for us. 

Needless to say, I didn’t get to grab lunch and returned to my classroom to teach a reeling wreck of emotion. Sadly, we’ve not reconnected again. Maybe the grief was too awkward. I get that and have no hard feelings.

I wish I had been more prepared that this could happen. I was in my own world trying to survive, keep the house, and raise the boys. I wish we had reconnected when Kris was alive. I know now that I didn’t have to feel guilty for telling her or helping her. It wasn’t my job to help her with her grief. I know now that it’s perfectly OK to allow someone to be in their grief and not try to fix it for them. 

How to prepare yourself and tell them

  1. Though it may seem strange, try to accept that not everyone knows. This may be difficult and those initial events may be challenging. Whether it happens soon after the event or a little while later, there may be times when you need to let someone know.
  2. Knowing this can happen at any time, it can be helpful to prepare yourself and have a few words you want to say. 
  3. Start with letting them know you have some sad news to share. This helps them prepare for a shock.
  4. Use simple, plain language. Tell them my husband has died. Share what feels comfortable.  
  5. Let them know that their response is perfectly OK and that all their feelings are normal.
  6. Remember, you are not there as a support system nor to help them with their grief.

With all the social media and other ways of spreading information, we often assume that everyone knows the events of our lives. We forget that they are also living their life and may not have seen or heard about our loss. When we are confronted with telling them, this may bring up a lot of emotions and awkwardness for both parties. Keep in mind that, if they are asking about your partner, they are coming from a good place without the knowledge that your person is no longer here. You can update them and let them process their emotions as you continue along your own journey

We hope if this happens to you, you will have the tools to get through the feelings and the emotions. Know that if it does happen, you will do your best to get through it, and it will be OK. Celebrate your ability to get through it.

Peace & blessings,
Jeni & Teresa

PS: For additional support, you can download our free copy of 10 Ways to Move Forward After Loss

The First Days: Coping with Life After Loss is a resource for the first days after a loss – available on Amazon in paperback.

My Journey as a Widow: A Widow’s First Journal  is a follow-on journal for processing complex emotions and moving forward with hope available on Amazon in paperback.

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