While chatting with a new acquaintance seated beside me at a dinner party, I learned her adult son died one year ago. Knowing what a terrible loss that is, and understanding that most people never recover from it, I said, “I’m so sorry. There is really nothing anyone can say to make you feel better, but please know I am very, very sorry for your loss.”

She thanked me, then quietly asked when and how my husband died. I told her he died three years ago from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, a disease of unknown cause with no treatment or cure. She immediately retorted, “Why didn’t he have a lung transplant?”

I explained that at the time we were told that at 79 he was too old for a transplant, and in his weakened condition the doctors didn’t think he would have survived it.

She didn’t let that go. She countered with, “My  friend who’s 73 just had one and she’s doing fine!”

A bit surprised, I answered, “We went to the University of Chicago and to Mayo Clinic for additional opinions, and they all agreed.”

“Well,” she snapped at me, “You went to the wrong places!!! You should have gone to the Jewish Hospital in Denver. They are the best at this.”

I didn’t explain that some treatments, like transplants, have changed since my husband was diagnosed six years ago. I also refrained from asking this suburban housewife when and where she earned her medical degree. I just turned in my seat to talk with the person on the other side.


I don’t think that woman has any idea of how rude and unkind her comments were. But during the three years of my widowhood, I’ve learned how to deal with people who unintentionally make hurtful comments:

We must turn away, turn them off, and never give them “free rent” in our brains.


By Sandra Pesmen 2011


Sandra Pesmen

Sandra Pesmen, host of www.widowslist.com, also writes the weekly DR.JOB column syndicated by Career News Service. A member of The Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame and The University of Illinois Media Alumni Hall of Fame, Ms. Pesmen is author of “DR. JOB’s Complete Career Guide,“ and “Writing for the Media: Public Relations and the Press.” A reporter, features writer and editor, this business journalist was features editor of Crain’s Chicago Business from its inception in 1978 to 1990, when she became corporate features editor for its parent, Crain Communications Inc. She also wrote the monthly Executive Woman column in North Shore magazine in suburban Chicago for many years. Previously, she was a reporter and features writer for the Chicago Daily News.

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