The Elephant in the Room

So Kalissa and were out and met someone we both know.  I’ve known the person for 25 years at least.  We aren’t close friends but I know them and consider them to be a very nice person.  Carver was with us.  We were chatting.  Carver was restless so I took him off and helped him and was away from the conversation.

After a short bit Kalissa caught up to me and said, “Oh my, that was awkward.”  I didn’t know what was up, so I asked, and she told me that after I left with Carver, the person asked- “So how’s your mom’s cancer?”  Then following that response she asked, “How’s she doing without your Dad?”

People, STOP!  Please STOP!  I am not mad about this.  It’s human nature.  We all wonder about the widow in the room.  We all wonder about the person with medical issues.  We all want to ask.  We all wonder.  It’s natural.  It’s normal and it’s entirely okay.  But…let’s find a better way to ask about it.

We all have been places and all of us were aware that there was “an elephant in the room”, a topic people wanted to talk about yet didn’t.

So…today I’m writing this to help you all who feel uncomfortable talking about the “elephant”.

Number one thing I want everyone to know:
I don’t mind if anyone talks to me about Kramer (my husband who died in June of 2019).  I don’t mind it a bit.  I love it in fact.  By you talking about him, it lets me know that someone else besides me is missing him.  It also lets me know that you care about me.  Talking about him lightens my load and the grief we bare is shared.  The load is lightened.  That’s awesome.  Yes, I might get a tear in my eye with a shared memory but that tear isn’t hurting me.  It’s helping me.

The problem is…how does one mention “the elephant”?  How do you bring it up in conversation?

Here’s my suggestion:Say:
“I’ve been thinking of you.  I imagine with Kramer gone, things are different”.


It lets me know that you are thinking about me and care.  You aren’t reaching for idol gossip.  You aren’t sounding nosey.  You sound caring and you are acknowledging the elephant in the room.

If the widow wants to talk about it, the door is open.  The widow can go on and say something like, “It is hard…but I seem to doing okay but still have moments…..(and expand on them)”

If the widow doesn’t want to talk about it, we can close the door.  We can say, “It really is different”.  Conversation over…yet, the widow will know you cared.  The elephant was addressed, you can move on to other conversations.

Here’s something else you could say:
“I was thinking of you (or Kramer) the other day when this happened………(tell story) and it reminded me of something Kramer would have done.”

Anything like that is awesome.  It really opens the door.  It sounds thoughtful and concerning.

Saying nothing is okay if you can do it without “putting an elephant in the room”.  Many can’t.  In fact, I’ve learned to open that door myself from time to time.  Here’s an example.

Kalissa were at the cemetery.  She had bought a big spray of flowers to go over the stone.

It disappeared.  The spray is no longer there.  We don’t know if it blew away or someone took it.  We were looking trying to see if it was somewhere.  We ended up meeting Kramer’s boss and his wife who were also at the cemetery.  I ended up telling them that we were wanting to find these…plant stands…
(if anyone knows where to order these plant stands from, please let us know)

…and we’d put on each side of his stone.  I made a joke that Kramer would have just welded them together and I wouldn’t have to shop for some.  Then we all enjoyed a moment reminiscing on how “over built” Kramer made everything.  It was nice for all of us and there was no “elephant in the room” moment.

Please remember, we widows deal with people all the time.  We are seasoned in dealing with people who are uncomfortable talking but wanting to talk.  It’s okay to address the elephant.  Most of the time, we widows can help guide you through it…and that’s okay to.  As much as you don’t want to make us uncomfortable, we don’t want to make you uncomfortable either.

Chances are, widows are going to break down in big ugly tears is really slim, so don’t be afraid.  Just ask…but ask us it a caring way…whatever you do, just don’t quiz a family member after the widow or patient has left the conversation.  This made Kalissa feel bad like she was talking behind my back (being I was just there).  That didn’t make Kalissa feel good at all.

Now…when addressing someone’s medical condition.

Again the caring approach is best– “I was thinking about you the other day and realized I hadn’t kept up on your medical condition, how are you?” or, “The last I heard, you were going through some tests.  How did they turn out?”.

Doesn’t that sound nice or caring?

Again…just address the elephant in the room.  It’s entirely okay as long as you are coming at it from a caring way–  Not a way that you are going to gossip about or be digging for information…do it in a caring way.

I don’t mind talking about things one single bit.  Of course I have some days when it’s super easy….some when I might have tear….every day I like to hear someone thought of me or cares.

Throughout life, there are so many “elephants”.  Our son Buck has dealt with it during a divorce.  Kramer and I dealt with it when we had to file bankruptcy after a bad farming experience in the 80’s.  Kalissa dealt with it some when Gannon was having so many troubles.

Whatever the problem or concern, please always remember, it’s only an “elephant in the room” if we don’t address it.  If we talk about in a gentle, caring way, it just becomes a moment shared.  That is so much better and both parties will walk away feeling lighter, knowing we didn’t let “the elephant” bring us down.

18 thoughts on “The Elephant in the Room”

  1. Thanks, Jo! Some of us care (a lot!) but we aren’t natural born conversationalists. Your thoughts on sticky situations are quite helpful.. I appreciate your examples of what TO DO, Along with your recommendations for what NOT to do in order to avoid the introducing the “elephant in the room.”

  2. Thanks for sharing this with us, Jo. It’s always something so many of us don’t know how to handle, including me.
    Love and prayers

  3. Thank you for a very helpful post! You suggestions of what to say and what not to say are spot on. I know there are many who will be glad to put your suggestions to use.

  4. Gosh Jo, I feel like you’re counseling the world. Well written. I’m sorry Kalissa had to deal with that. Another thing people should know is that sometimes the response will be, “I’m fine”. There is not always the desire to talk details. People need to accept that response and move on, as well.

    Wishing you a fabulous Saturday!

  5. Cherie in St Louis

    I so appreciate your post.. I’m one of those who struggle to bring up the elephant because I really don’t want to seem nosy or insensitive. You’ve given examples of what to say and your feeling. Thank you. I often think that Kramer and my dad were cut from the same cloth….what you build must be strong enough to last…..three lifetimes! But mostly because they could build anything :)

  6. I love that you keep reminding us how to be better humans, it shows that you care for humans you don’t even know. I have started to address people in this manner when I’m chatting with a person I haven’t visited with for a while. It shows how much I care for them and gives them the chance to say what they want to.

  7. Thank you for addressing the “elephant in the room” concept. I know I struggle sometimes with wanting to say something but I also don’t want to pry, this gave me some good examples. I also appreciate the plant stand link, I need to order one for a dear friend and gift it for her daughters head stone. It made me smile when you spoke of Kramer over designing things, we often say that my husband over engineers everything! or it not a Paul project unless a band aide was needed.

  8. For the plant holders, check with the cemetery caretaker. Our small town cemetery had them on hand and installed ours at little or no charge and put them where it was best for mower/grass trimmer.

  9. If I had been in Kallisa’s place I would have recommended the lady read your blog. That would thoroughly cover everything she asked.

  10. Judith Fairchild

    Thank you for your addressing the elephant problem. It is hard to bring up a sensitive subject most of the time. Thanks for showing us a good way to do it.

  11. Carolyn Sullivan

    HEHEHEHEH I guess that person doesn’t follow your blog! But really that’s good advice that we all should know.

  12. Thank you. An aquaintance in my cycling group’s 30 yr old daughter passed away early April from coronavirus and I heard about it via a group e-mail. Now that things are “opening up” again I am sure to see this person and when that time comes I was struggling to figure out how to acknowledge with him his daughter’s passing. Thank you for your suggestions.

  13. I struggle with saying the right thing, being interested without being nosy, so thank you for those pointers. I hope I’ll be able to remember them and implement them in future conversations.

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