What to Say to Someone Who’s Going Through Hell (Part 2)

Star Jimenez Johnson
By Star Jimenez Johnson

I first met Jen when I shared an apartment with her in Astoria, New York. I moved in on a Saturday & on Sunday night it dumped feet of snow and so we immediately got to know each other. We shared books, cups of tea, traveling stories, and dating advice. I remember when she first met Robert. Her spirit was up and Robert balanced her perfectly. Jen was in love. And more importantly Robert loved her back. To see how their love has grown and their family has blossomed was beautiful to see. Along with you, my heart aches to see Jen and Robert facing their own hell. I pray her hell does not become my own.

I left New York City in 2005 and moved back to Orlando, Florida where I had some friends. I met my own knight, Roger, who was patient, kind, loving, and taught me how to truly love. He could handle my shenanigans and balance me. The best day of my life was the day we were married. Finally I had my ultimate teammate & confidant. My own person to lean on forever. I remember one particular day over that summer where I really felt happy & true joy.

My own hell started on the early morning of August 22, 2008 – the day before our six-month wedding anniversary. A moron travelling on bald tires on wet Florida roads came across the median of a major Orlando highway into the driver’s door of our car. My husband was driving and never regained consciousness. His body was wrecked and his brain swelled so much that it lost all the wrinkles. The space between the two hemispheres of his brain was gone not to mention all his other injuries. And I was left when a shell of man that I loved and needed. Doctors informed me that this was it. The man who had saved me from myself was gone. Six days later the plug was pulled and I was left in hell. At 27 years old, I was a widow.

I heard lots of gems along the road since that day. “Oh you are young, you’ll find love again.” “At least you don’t have kids.” “You are so brave.”

But I could see what they were really thinking: “I am so glad it is not me.”

Many people offered to help me. But it is hard for me to accept help. Not to mention, I had no idea what I really needed. I had no idea how to put into words or actions or requests of what I needed. Here are things I did need and did help.

  1. Keep plans with me. My life had just drastically changed in a matter of less than a week. I needed things that were not going to change suddenly.
  2. I did not have an appetite and ended up losing 30 pounds in about five months. But I still enjoyed having people come over to cook dinner for me and inviting me to their homes.
  3. Be patient with me. Losing my entire daily existence is not something that has a timeline. Grief is not finished in a month, six months, or even a year.
  4. Talk about my person. It helps to know you are thinking about them too. But talk about other stuff too. My mind was always on it. So some distraction was nice but do not ignore it.
  5. If you know a movie, book, or show that I normally watch is going to be too touchy, warn me. I could not watch “PS I Love You” at first and I had episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” that were a little too much for me. I adored those friends who would call or text to let me know ahead of time. I still have commercials I cannot watch and have not read the “Twilight” books since Roger loved that kind of book.
  6. Do not look at me with pity. I hate that look. It is one of the reasons I don’t tell a lot of people my story. I am not that strong. I just did not have another choice. I had to keep breathing and living like everyone else even when I did not want to.
  7. When I do start dating again, it does not mean I am over it all. It is never over. It scars and does not hurt as bad. But it is still there. Always.
  8. I will cry randomly. I will have meltdowns. Don’t judge me. It may seem stupid and over reacting to you but I cannot control a lot of things around me. Please be patient with me and try to be understanding. My “silliest” meltdown was over a restaurant forgetting my salad and putting bacon on my meal. I went off on the waiter and burst into tears. Poor waiter but some of the “friends” at the table could not forgive me.
  9. I may find something insignificant to control since I cannot control anything else. For me, I started to control my laundry sorting to an obsessive level and recycling. My nickname among friends became “The Recycling Nazi”. Be patient with me. Some of it will fade. Now I am just a recycling enthusiast.
  10. Don’t ask me what I need, find something I need. Come take out my trash. Offer to take my car in for service. Go with me to appointments. Clean my house.

Visit Star Jimenez Johnson’s blog, And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here? http://www.facebook.com/#!/starswidowblog

One thought on “What to Say to Someone Who’s Going Through Hell (Part 2)

  1. avatarMars Girl

    Good job, Star. And I’m so relieved to know I’m not the only one who got the whole “you’re young, you’ll love again” line. It was said to me as I stood beside my dead husband’s casket at the wake!!! What gull!! I always remember that comment, but thankfully not who said it… That is the WORST possible thing to say at that time even if it is true (yes, I did find love again, about 11 years later and I’m getting married in July). Your heart is still attached to the person who died. No one would ever say something similar to you if a friend died (“Don’t worry, you’ll find more friends.”). No one can replace another person. My new husband is not a replacement for my first… He’s a completely different person. And it took me a long time to wade through my grief enough to be able to love a man for himself and not as a replacement. This society has such a problem with dealing with grief. The advice you give here is excellent.

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