A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Proverbs 15:1 (ESV)
Golly gee, can people just remember to say one standard line to a widow like, “This is hard. I’m here if you need me.”
And can we widows try to remember how hard it is to say the right thing? Maybe even coach people on what to say to a grieving widow.
With ten years since my loss, I look back with a lighter heart at the ways people fumbled, bumbled and stumbled over just what to say to a widow.
Here is my “Golly Gee, they didn’t just say that!” list of the botched approaches:
Good grief approach –
“You poor thing. Bless your heart! Let me take care of you!”
I’m not a poor thing. Give me some credit for not going over the cliff right now.
OMG approach –
“Oh my gosh! That’s so awful! I couldn’t handle that! You must be so strong!”
I gulped and thought, Guess what, sister, we don’t get a choice on what we have to handle, so excuse me for not accepting that compliment. How about God chooses you to be strong instead of me?
Lucky dog approach –
“Wow you’re so lucky. I’d far rather have the insurance payout than my husband sticking around.”
No kidding, this happened! I found myself quietly shunning the woman. I now regret that. She could have used a friend to help her see the good in her married life. She finally left her husband and has regretted her lonely walk ever since.
Lazy husband approach –
“I know exactly how you feel. My husband doesn’t lift a finger at home.”
I reacted, “at least you get to wake up next to the lazy jerk every morning!” Needless to say, the blunt retort didn’t do much to encourage this woman.
You’re young approach –
“don’t worry, you’re young. You’ll find somebody.”
I said nothing and fumed over the comment until I realized she only wanted to encourage and meant absolutely nothing ill by it, just needed a little coaching on what to say.
Get on with it approach –
“Get to work. Don’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself.”
I felt guilty for spinning my wheels in that first year and recalled the conversation every time we bumped into each other. What a mistake! She didn’t even remember it because what she really meant was she felt compassion for me.
Evading approach –
The person simply stays away. My reaction ranged from not registering their disappearance to being deeply hurt. I now know I wasted too much emotion here. Many AWOL friends either didn’t want to crowd me or had their own emotional issues about death.
Endlessly dedicated approach—
“There’s got to be something I can do. Anything. Just give me a task, now. You don’t have anything? Well, let me follow you around until I figure out a task.”
My reaction to this type of friend was to begin accommodating her need to help. It was sweet at first but soon became a burden for me as I ran out of things to give her and found her “help” to be an albatross around my neck.
Reacting offensively to an offense does nothing to repair the damage. And if you can learn to see the person through the eyes of Christ, you can have grace and respond to them gently as in Proverbs 15:1.
I now try to understand the heart behind the person’s comment and thank people for trying to help. If I’m ever in that place again, I’ll just let people know that it’s okay to just sit quietly with me or say a simple “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Because the truth is, we all can use grace with one another.
Golly gee, Lord,
I’ve learned something here—I will never judge another for trying to say the right thing because God knows I’ve missed the mark many times! I only pray that my lesson can be learned from someone going through these very conversations today. Amen
Kit Hinkle is an author and speaker. She was an original writer of A Widow’s Might in 2008, and after four years with that ministry, expanded it and founded A New Season Ministries, Inc. Once the ministry became established, she turned the leadership over, yet continues to contribute articles while she focuses on her finest career as a mother to two high school boys, two boys in college, and a grown son and daughter whom she helped her husband raise before he passed away. She has lived through corporate careers as a chemical engineer and a management consultant, but now enjoys walks on the beach with her chocolate lab. She loves to sit with another who is walking through her tough road and show that woman Christ. It’s an honor to participate in His kingdom.
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