click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Naso
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

The Gentle Art of Condolences

The Gentle Art of Condolences

Jewlarious writer Marnie Macauley grieves for the loss of her beloved husband, and thanks those who have comforted her.


Editor’s note: Jewlarious is of course’s Jewish humor, arts and entertainment section, and while this article fits into none of those categories, it is written by our dear friend and writer Marnie Macauley about the loss of her husband. Because she has such a strong following on our site, we felt it important to share this piece with you.

As some of you know, my husband of 33 years, Ian T. Macauley died in my arms on June 3, after suffering a stroke ten months ago.

Judaism is exceptionally wise in the handling of grief. Our religion understands with rachmones (mercy), the need for support, for people, for mourning. And, for God.

Sadly we knew few people in this crazy town of Las Vegas, so our Simon and I are pretty much on our own.

I miss the platters (especially the lox – salty).

I miss the company, the diversion.

I miss Ian. He’d be so ticked off that he won’t be able to follow the presidential election, taking notes on reportorial errors, and screaming at the TV. (he was a lifelong old guard news editor).

So, in grief, we Jews do special things, but turn as well to what we’ve always done. I’m a writer. I write. I’m a clinician. I heal – well, others.

As a therapist, I’ve always felt that in addition to our spiritual and religious beliefs, there are human issues. And that, despite all the psychobabble, we grieve differently, in our own way, in our own time. And that must be understood, and respected.

For example … while at vigil by his side, I took a few breaks outdoors, needing to feel the sun on my face … the promise of a new day. I knew I had entered the hospital as a wife … and would be leaving as a widow.

Most loathe the word “widow.” I am not a spider.

I’ve spoken to many friends whose mates have died, and it seems we feel the same way. Most loathe the word. “Widow.” Widows are spiders, black widows, Queen Victoria in perpetual black, shrouded mourning. A dear cousin told me simply: “We’re not widows. We are/were wives. And that shall always be – us.”

This helped.

So I write … I can’t yet write of the 10 months of horror, politics, lousy medicine, and lost/afraid friends, but also of new remarkable ones. But I can talk of what helps and what doesn’t – at least to most of us, and especially this quirky “widow.”

All texts, emails, and letters have been so welcome. All were meant with good intent, but some were more helpful … and others less so.

Phrases Said with Love – that Should Probably be Re-thought

  • “If only he’d exercised, ate healthy, and taken better care of himself.” As a clinician, I recognize the anger, frustration, and self-fear in these words, and forgive. As a “widow” – shut up. “What ifs” are meant to move the living forward, not to guilt the grieving over what can’t be and won’t be.
  • “Why didn’t you: a) give him 10,000 units of Vitamin C; b) treat him with canned asparagus; c) go to the alternative doctor I recommended four months ago?” What can you say? “Because I’m a lousy wife who denied him ‘cures’-by-idiots?”
  • “We saw the signs. If he’d come to us two weeks earlier, we could have done something.” And you kept quiet? Write a paper for the AMA on clues, and how not to alert the spouse of the sick and dying.
  • “You knew it was coming. You were at least prepared.” Not really. I kept the light on near the phone, killing myself to grab it. Even in the inevitable, an irrational ray of hope remains within us.
  • You made it through the horror, now you’re free … run like the wind.” Or, from the less poetic, “Get right up on that horse again.” Walking, running, horses? What am I a jockey? We’re working on breathing from one moment to the next, not Nikes and saddles.
  • “At least he’s no longer suffering and at peace in a better place.” Is he? I pray so. But a better place to us was with us. Life was always “I” and “M” and “S.” Now there’s no “I” – and no scorecard for death of a partner, a father, a cheerleader of 33 years. We have to learn how to write Chapter Two.

Phrases That Help

  • “As said above, “You're not a widow … you are, and always will be a wife.”
  • “He leaves behind a powerful legacy and made a difference.”
  • “I was privileged to know and work with him.”
  • “Take each day at a time — slowly.” (From a widow.)
  • “What an amazing love you shared.”
  • “The older we get the more we realize we don't know. We're grateful every day for what we have and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Hold your son, Simon, close and hold yourself as well. As you start the next chapter of your life, deep breaths, one foot in front of the next.” A realistic wish, with accounting, and hope.
  • And finally … “How can I/we help?”

Yes, we all grieve uniquely. For this “widow,” the most helpful words aren’t those describing what could’ve, should’ve, might’ve been, but what was and will always be.

As a writer and editor, my husband would agree. I don’t make “saints” of we humans – even after death. No. I reach for the best of truth, balance, and peace among the living; those who knew and loved him; those whose lives he informed, and thereby enriched.

And the most helpful messages are those that simply acknowledge these thoughts, and allow the living, with apologies to Dylan Thomas, “to go gently into that next good day.”

Dedicated to the ever-lasting memory of my husband, Ian T. Macauley, father, grandfather, and brilliant journalist.

June 16, 2012

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 25

(24) marnie, the author, July 17, 2012 6:50 PM


My dear readers. I can't tell you how your concern, advice, and good wishes touched and helped. It will never be forgotten. A writer wants and thrives on readers. But you have given a gift far more important. You ... are dear friends. Shalom and so much love. Marnie

(23) Anonymous, June 24, 2012 3:31 AM

dear ms. macauley...

may you be comforted among the mourners of zion and yerushalaim and may your husband be an advocate for you and yours up above.

(22) Melissa Furman, June 22, 2012 11:15 PM

Appreciation for the Gentle Art of Condolences article

Although I have received the AISH newsletter for awhile I never read any article more comforting than "The Gentle Art of Condolences". I, too, am a recent widow, praying for inner strength each day to meet banking deadlines, prepare endless paperwork for the transistion of new beneficiaries, have motivation to prepare a meal for one person, and the energy to eat it after the preparation. I pray for an ease of pain within my heart for the loss of my beloved husband of 34 years. I look in the mirror and don't recognize my reflection. I rarely sleep. I feel very alone, even though my family and friends have been constant and caring. I had a call from an insurance carrier who started the conversation with "Now that you are a widow you will need to" etc. I stopped him and asked him to repeat the word in the first sentence (widow) which I didn't comprehend. The word was repeated again, and a third time. I still didn't get it. FINALLY, I asked that the word be spelled, and only after that did I understand. I told the caller it was the first time I had heard the word "widow"applied to ME. It was so shocking! I still cannot refer to myself as a widow, but will now think of myself as a wise woman. Thank you for your honest insight, and your way with words, which warmed my heart and provided me with a new direction for the days to come. Blessings to you!

(21) Jenna Sarah Yehudis, June 22, 2012 8:13 PM

My condolences

Please accept my condolences on the loss of your husband. May his memory be a blessing.

(20) Marnie, the author, June 22, 2012 5:18 AM


I’ve always loved Judaism because it embraces both change and rachmones. As with most marriages, ours wasn't perfect. But, as a The New York Times, Senior Editor, he fought diligently for accurate reporting on Israel, to which he was committed – and put himself on the line, over and over again. He was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his editing of the fall of Communism. He lived a life of Big Principles: racial equality, ardently pro-Israel, promoting the Space Program (he was a member of the Astronautic and Space Society). His tzedakah was always silent. As a privileged writer with AISH, (and yes my mamalas, I'll be right back with humor),I want to tell all of you what I’ve learned AISH truly stands for. To me, it’s rarely in the “big things” (Classic: “the fency-dency” dinners for "machers). GIVE TO AISH: The Director of, Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith, has been with us all the way,giving his time, wisdom, and spiritual contacts freely to us, which has been a godsend. Rabbis Aryeh Markman, Executive Director, Aish LA and Rabbi Boruch Yehuda Gradon have provided unparalleled support, along with my old friend, Rabbi Ben Lefkowitz, and the unbelievable Rabbi Mintz. AISH leaders, including my dear editor, Richard Rabkin, have opened their hearts to our small nuclear family. And after all, isn’t that the soul of Judaism; he heart of of our magnificent religion. These Aish rabbis and editors have taken the time, the effort, to offer unquestioning support – to just two three people. I’ve learned that AISH principles apply whether to a wealthy group, or a single writer, her husband and. Messages and support, initiated by Rabbi Coopersmith, confirm my belief in Judaism, justice, empathy, and rachmones as a Living Principle. So, honor AISH, read our magnificent articles, and if you can, send a gift. Shalom, and all my love to you. Marnie (Macauley)

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment