Family Foes, Fair-Weather Friends... And The Luxury Of The Armchair

Have you ever heard the expression, "armchair quarterback"? It is a reference to those who are very much like I am when watching football... sitting in the comfort of their home (or in a sports bar), shouting various strategies to the coaches and quarterback and screaming profanities at the television when things do not go the right way.

(Especially when the Dallas Cowboys -- my favorite team -- are involved).

It is a lovely luxury in the "armchair" to call plays and shriek disapproval at the television. But I have never once been the coach who is either "good guy" or "goat"; depending on a final score. I have never been a quarterback who is expected to execute flawlessly in a matter of seconds, while 300 lb. men try to stand on his neck.

The armchair is indeed an exquisitely easy place to be.

There is another arena where "armchair quarterbacks" also exist -- except this time, those who sit in the metaphorical armchairs have the ability and occasionally, the actual desire to wreak havoc, cause pain and outright destroy relationships. They are the family members and/or friends of departed spouses who, while admittedly also in a tremendous amount of grief and pain themselves, nonetheless feel that somehow, a widowed is the rightful catch-all for anger, criticism and judgment.

To these people, the word "widowed" is synonymous with "whipping post". They tell the widowed that their overwhelming grief is so much greater than the pain of the surviving spouse. They hurl unfounded accusations. They appropriate belongings not meant for them; many times without permission. They demand to know if and how they are going to benefit monetarily from their loved one's death -- isn't it interesting how "overwhelming grief" takes an immediate back seat to potential monetary gain. In some cases, they have even engaged in criminal behavior.

In a nutshell, these people willingly and intentionally take advantage of a widowed's most vulnerable low point.

It's not OK.

Unbelievably, there are literally hundreds of thousands of widowed with these laments (and worse); so many in fact, that one must conclude the existence of a common problem. Worse still, there are widowed who have had to take legal action against those who once were ostensibly "family" or "friends" in order to protect themselves, their children and their assets. In extreme cases, widowed have actually secured restraining orders against threats of physical harm.

Is it all family members and friends of dearly departed engaging in this behavior? Of course not...and to insinuate otherwise would be grossly unfair. However, after many years and tens of thousands of letters received, it saddens me to say that a large majority of those surrounding the widowed do choose to take on the enviable position of "armchair quarterback". We'll call them the "AQ's".

Oftentimes not closely involved in the events that led up to the death of their family member or friend, AQ's loudly criticize the widowed without concern as to who or how badly it will hurt. They make accusations of horrendous nature where no evidence exists to substantiate those accusations. Most incredibly, the AQ's deliberately and swiftly eliminate widowed and children from their lives without a second thought as to emotional consequence -- even when it comes to children.

It must be nice in that armchair.

It is so easy to sit in the armchair, look in from the outside and criticize, disparage or otherwise cast aspersion on a widowed -- someone who has just buried their beloved and is right now trying to find their way through a hellish haze of grief, while continuing to run and support a household that oftentimes includes children as well. Where love, compassion and support is so desperately needed, instead, the widowed unwittingly find themselves on a battleground.


I wish I could answer that question intelligently. I wish I knew why so many people go sideways when death visits a family. However, I do know are not alone.

We too were affected by this phenomenon. I too once had to look into the eyes of a devastated little girl and lamely try to answer her when she tearfully asked, "Why don't they love me anymore?"

Time moves us on though and for us, the anger eventually gave way to accepting reality -- not everyone has the same value systems as to how to treat others and that it is easier to criticize or abandon those in need rather than be a positive part of the situation. I learned another important lesson as well -- the definitions of "family" and "friendship" are not necessarily what you were born into or what was handed to you through marriage. Real and true family and friends include those who stand by you, unconditionally and without reproach or judgment. While there may be no "technical" family connection, we enjoy familial relationships with those who actually were there throughout catastrophic illness, death and the aftermath in every way possible -- physically, emotionally, spiritually...every imaginable way that one can be there for another in a most desperate time of need. Furthermore, not only are these angels still there for us, I know in my heart that they will always be there for us.

The lesson? People are either part of the problem or part of the solution. The former need not apply to be a part of your life.

Your focus must remain on your healing and the healing of your children. Do not waste valuable energy on those who have abandoned you or are otherwise sitting in judgment. Instead, ask yourself, "Who is my real support? Who has stood by me and continues to do so? Who is a positive presence in my life? Who has eased my journey?" They are your true family and friends. They are the ones who will see you through to a place of healing and peace. Think of it this way -- you are the "quarterback" on the field known as Your Life. You are calling the plays. Your genuine family and friends are the blockers that are going to keep the 300 lb. losers from standing on your neck...or your heart.

In other words, your real family and friends are the people who walk right past the "armchair" and all of the AQ's... and get into the game.

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Carole's latest book, "Happily Even After..." is the winner of the prestigious Books for a Better Life Award. For more information about Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, please visit and

Watch for Carole's third book coming in 2015.

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