Stop Saying We Have So Much in Common

by Elena Von Willer

My husband passed away in 2013 after a lengthy illness; COPD, actually.  In December 2012, he went into the hospital and basically never came out.  He was transferred back and forth from hospital to rehab for the next nine months until I was able to bring him home with hospice. In other words, I brought him home to die.

After his death, I moved to Bloomington in 2015 to be close to my daughter who has been living here since 2008.  Besides my daughter and her husband, the only other person I knew here was a shirt-tail relative, Karen, who also retired to Bloomington because her children and grandchildren live here.

Karen was very gracious and started introducing me to friends she had met locally. She also introduced me to some of the clubs here in town that are full of retired people.

The first time I went out with a group that Karen belonged to, it was to the Bloomington Playwright’s Project to see a play. Karen said “Mary will be there, and I want you to meet her. You two have so much in common.” 

I asked her what Mary and I had in common thinking that Mary had probably worked in Chicago like I did, or was a legal secretary like I was, or something on that order.  Well, Karen’s answer was, “Oh, her husband died, too.”

A few weeks later, I signed up for a sketching class at Ivy Tech and met Jane. We sat next to each other in class and would talk to each other. That class ended and I signed up for a memoir class and Jane was also in that class. We exchanged phone numbers and a friendship began. 

We met for lunch one day after she had attended a painting seminar in Martinsville.  She wanted to tell me about the class. During lunch, she began by sharing about her instructor. Jane said she had taught at the Art Institute in Chicago and what a good artist she is.  She said “You would really like her, you two have a lot on common.” 

After she told me all about the class, I said to her, “So, what do we have in common,? Chicago?” 

She said, “No. Her husband died after a long illness, and she took care of him, too.”

What the ____!  Is it me or are they crazy?  If I asked anyone to introduce me to other widows so we can compare our husbands’ deaths, they would think I was nuts. 

I get it that a lot of people don’t know what to say to individuals when a loved one dies. If that is the case, they shouldn’t say anything at all.  Not all widows want to meet all the other widows. It’s like thinking all Black people should know each other. They don’t. 

Yes, I have met other widows and yes, we have discussed our spouse’s deaths, but usually not until we have known each other for quite a while.  It’s not something I look forward to discussing, especially with strangers. I don’t want to meet only widows.  I don’t need to commiserate and hear their horror stories of their spouses’ deaths. I don’t want to be sad all the time.  It’s not going to help get me through what I’m feeling. 

People grieve in their own way and in their own time frame.  Just let us be.  Each of us will make it through on our own.

Stop saying we have so much in common
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