Four Tips on Responding to Death

Today I offer four tips on responding to death from my viewpoint as a recent widow. My words are not a template for dealing with a similar situation in your life. However, it may help you make decisions when you don’t know what to say or do.

Some Background First

My husband died one week ago. He taught history at the high school I attended and lived in the area his entire life.

His death marks my second time as a widow. You might think it would get easier, but it doesn’t. Nor is it a similar experience. For me, this is proof that dealing with the death of a close loved one is unique for each person, each occurrence.

Although I’m writing through the lens of my own experience, I feel it may help you in your experiences.

Four Tips on Responding to Death

  1. Above all else, respect the surviving spouse.
  2. Look into your heart before you act.
  3. Reach out with a loving, personal memory of the loved one.
  4. Listen without judgment.

Respecting the Spouse

Losing a spouse is about as intimate as it gets. No one else knows the reality they are facing. The first days are tough, both from an emotional standpoint and a logistical one. Shock has always been my first reaction. My reaction to shock is action. Even so, it’s challenging to sift through all the possible steps to take.

By respecting the spouse, you allow them to take the time they need. Furthermore, you communicate with them before acting yourself. The reason is simple. Your actions may further complicate and add unneeded stress.

Look Into Your Heart Before Acting

Even though we are all different, some things are universal. We often do something for a less than loving reason. However, if you can take a few moments after you hear the news of the passing to take some deep breaths and honestly ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? Is it out of love or something else?” Then, consider how to best show support and love for all concerned.

Share a Loving Personal Memory

The sweetest moment this past week was a text I received from one of my husband’s close friends.

“For what it’s worth, he expressed to me his joy at reconnecting with you, despite me breaking his b-$$s about it.”

Of course, my first response was a smile and then a warm feeling in my heart. Next, my day suddenly grew even brighter when I read a Facebook message from a student who shared her favorite memory.

Listen Without Judgment

I know a lot about judgment. It’s taken me most of my life to release a great deal of it. But unfortunately, for many of us, stressful situations allow judgment to resurface.

As I spoke or texted with multiple friends, I found that if they judged me, I reacted negatively. However, my resentment softened and disappeared when they allowed me to let it out and gave me loving examples of what the person who judged me may have felt.

Final Thoughts

There are so many sources of stress and upset in our lives. Most of them are from situations outside our control. Although losing a loved one is inevitable, we always choose our words and actions. May peace and understanding be your guide as you navigate loss within your challenging situation.

When Someone You Love Is Hurtful

When someone you love is hurtful, we often react in a way that isn’t healthy for us. And this can become a lifelong habit that is difficult to change.

Every week Elizabeth Heise’s Friday Stories drop into my inbox. Her post, “Sweet Little Lies,” immediately drew me in as I sang the refrain in my head. However, I saw an aspect of myself that I had utterly ignored halfway through.

The subsequent realization was that I was a liar too! OMG! Honesty is one of my BIG values. And I thought I was honoring it throughout my life. Instead, I was telling sweet little lies to try and make the people in my life love me. Every husband (three, so far) was the same. Sacrificing myself while hoping they would love me.

Here’s how my realization played out.
This morning’s Ten Percent Happier meditation was “Delighting in Pleasure.” As I chose to get a big hug as my pleasure thought, all I could do was cry. I was thinking about the beautiful hugs my Dad gave me, especially in his last few years. I stumbled through the 10-minute meditation and then began my Morning Pages. Of course, this experience was my focus.

During the next thirty minutes, the natural source of pain emerged. I’d spent my entire life sacrificing myself to get Mom to love me.

An Example of Patterning

What was the first thing Mom said to me when I visited her last week in the rehabilitation facility?

“I didn’t think you were coming back.”

She said this before in a fearful way. But, this time, her tone reeked with anger.

Settling into familiar patterns, I was shocked but lied about it. That is, I didn’t express it. Instead, I ignored the remark, pushing it down. Furthermore, I worked at lifting Mom’s mood.

An Opportunity to Grow

Through more journaling and self-care, I made a discovery. There is a better way to reply to hurtful comments from Mom. So I wrote down my plan, rehearsed it, and reminded myself to come from a place of love.

“That hurt my feelings, Mom.”

Then I practice silence. Slowly, by allowing and surrendering, I began feeling powerful and hopeful. Once again, I remembered there is one and only one person we can change – ourselves.

A smile begins to form. The feeling of loving-kindness fills my heart, and I can feel the former sensation of sacrifice drifting away. In its place is hope.

Sometimes a Single Step is Crucial

By saying what I felt, a new door opened up. I stepped through to a place of happiness.

Each step brings us closer to the change we seek.