Talking to the Bereaved 101: Please Don't Tell Me He's in a Better Place

young woman consoling depressed senior woman
young woman consoling depressed senior woman

It's been over three months since my husband Peter died. It truly irks me when people preach, "He's in a better place." I want to scream, "No he's not! He should be sleeping beside me. That is a better place." I can think of a lot better places -- like Cabo in the winter, Maine in the summer, or Italy any time. The best place would be alive and healthy, and, of course, with me. If Peter were in a better place, he would be playing golf in Pebble Beach. That would truly be a better place. Then of course I would be a golf widow instead of just a widow.

Which brings me to the subject of preaching clichés. I was a big-time offender before I learned the power of grief. I might have said the same shibboleths to console someone who had suffered a loss. But I have had a swift education, which I will now pass on to you.

Allow me to help you communicate with someone who has lost her or his life partner. Please do not tell us that: "The living must go on!" Who can judge when any of us are ready to move on in our grief processes? Maybe they want me to move on so I am my peppy self again, and they can feel more at ease, but they will have to wait for as long as it takes.

"Everything happens for a reason," "It's all part of God's plan," and "God never gives you more than you can handle," are hard for me to fathom these days. Even if you think any of these bromides are true, I'm begging you not to tell us. I feel as though these comments are out of the wonderful show Peter and I saw several months ago called Act of God starring Jim Parsons. With his soothing Texas accent, Jim Parsons made the Lord a nice chap dispensing tidbits of info like: "Noah and the flood (that business about all the animals was an error; really there were just a couple of puppies)." Or, "The taking of his name in vain -- (Kanye, next time you win a Grammy and you thank me for your 'God-given talents' they're going to get God-taken, understand?)"

Here's another doozey of a cliché: "All things must pass." You think? Peter passed away and I am bereft. Who makes up this claptrap? Then there is, "He led a full life." Why are others the judges of what kind of life Peter had? How about: "Be grateful you had him so long"? Right now I miss him so much that nothing hurts more than this statement. "He would want you to get on with your life," is another. Sure he would, but I'm pretty sure I know my husband better than anyone, and he would want me to grieve and heal first. "Time heals all wounds" is downright wrong. Time doesn't heal. Grieving heals. Crying heals -- (wine too). One of the worst platitudes is, "You'll find someone else." This belittles what we had; it belittles Peter, and it belittles me that I would be looking to replace my sweet love.

I know you mean well, and I am so truly grateful for the outpouring of support. But soothing is a delicate thing to be handled with kid gloves and thought.