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by Abigail Van Buren

Words Intended to Comfort Only Trigger Man's Grief

DEAR ABBY: My wife died unexpectedly two years ago, after 18 years of a happy marriage and two kids. While we are doing as well as can be expected, one thing seems to set my grief off. It's when someone refers to my life as my "new normal."

I'm not sure I can put my finger on why this phrase bothers me so much, but if I had to guess, it's because I suspect people are using it to hint that it's time I moved on. Why is it that people who would be deeply offended if I attempted to tell them what to do with their life, seem to think it's acceptable to imply that I have grieved enough?

As I look at my life, I know it is forever changed, and it will never be "normal" again. It will be what it is, but I will have lost forever the love of my life and the mother of my children. Right now, I am trying my best to keep them healthy, working to keep a roof over their heads and dealing with my own grief. (We are all seeing our own counselors.) I have zero time and energy to invest in anything or anyone else.

Am I just holding onto the past? Are these people thoughtlessly saying something hurtful, or is it something completely different? -- ANNOYED IN ARKANSAS

DEAR ANNOYED: People often are at a loss about what to say to someone who has lost a parent, a spouse or a child. While they may be well-meaning, what comes out of their mouths can be hurtful rather than comforting.

Something I have learned from experience, as well as from my readers, is that everyone grieves differently. It's an individual process. Do not assume you know what these people are implying when they make that statement. "New normal" is a catchphrase that's popular now. It is used to describe conditions as the quarantines are being lifted or re-imposed. They may not realize how emotionally loaded that term can be. When it happens again, don't be confrontational, but do tell them how it made you feel.

Read more in: Death | Friends & Neighbors