Do you know someone whose spouse has died?
Have you ever wondered what to say to him or her?
If so, you are not alone. We live in a society where death and grief are off limits topics; so most people were never taught what to say to the widowed. Even worse, most people were taught that sad feelings should be avoided at all costs. When they come across someone whose spouse has died they try to find a positive spin, fix them, or offer advice that doesn’t work.
Did you know that 85% of things people say to the widowed are not helpful?
Recovery from grief involves healing a broken heart, not a broken brain. The more often people attempt to fix widows and widowers with intellectual comments and advice the more isolated they feel. They might even start to think something is wrong with them because they are still grieving.
Here are 11 things not to say to a widow or widower:
1. Be grateful for the time you were married
2. You’re still young. You can always remarry
3. You must stay strong for your children
4. Don’t feel bad, your husband is no longer in pain (if he died of an illness)
5. Your wife wouldn’t want you to be sad. She’d want you to celebrate her life
6. Everything happens for a reason
7. This might be a good time for you to get a new pet or take up a new hobby
8. Make sure you donate all your husbands’ stuff to charity. You don’t need any reminders of him
9. Make sure you don’t throw away any of your wife’s stuff. You will regret it.
10. It just takes time
11. I know what you’re going through (then start talking about your own loss)
Although some of these statements might be intellectually true, they are aimed at the head, not the heart, so won’t help someone who lost his or her life partner feel any better.
Try saying these helpful things to a widow or widower instead:
1. What happened?
- Ask what happened then actually listen to their reply. Widows and widowers need and want to be listened to. The most loving thing you can do for them is to listen to them without judgment, comparison, or trying to fix them
2. I don’t know what to say
- It’s okay to tell the truth if you don’t know what to say. Your honesty allows the widowed to know you are a safe person to talk to because they’ll know you aren’t trying to fix them.
3. I can’t image how you feel
- No two relationships are the same because they are comprised of two different people. So even if you’ve had a spouse die you could never know exactly how another widow or widower feels. At best you only how you felt when your loss occurred.
If you found this article helpful information, we suggest you read these from our Grief Blog:
Death of a long term spouse; legacy of love or monument to misery
Have you experienced some of these comments following the loss of your spouse? Are there any comments that you would like to add that you found to be hurtful or helpful?
I personally do not want to answer the question, "What happened?' What happened is my husband has died from this life. The details are really not necessary to anyone else. I would urge to remove that suggestion from the above.
People can express empathy without prying.
I agree with Mary Ann. Being asked "What happened?" after the tragic death of my child was not only unhelpful, but actually hurtful. Not all deaths are peaceful, and asking the bereaved loved one "what happened" may bring up painful thoughts and images. Many people ask out of curiosity without knowing the impact of a simple question that provides no comfort. If a bereaved love one brings up the subject, then listen, but please don't ask that.
I'm sorry that you're going through this pain though this reply is 3 years after the passing of your spouse. Sometimes people just can't express their needs in grief, and alot of times they can. With that, I've always found that people who can express the answer to the question "what happened?" the way you did, is exactly the right answer for that person or situation at that time. Again, I'm extremely sorry for your loss and hope that life has continued in some sort of viable and emotional arrangement for your needs. xoxo
I agree with that! They don’t want to relive the pain of the loss of their spouse by telling someone what happened. Way to personal
I hate that question as well.
Your comment is so helpful. Thank you for taking the time to comment.
I respect your thoughts, however, some people need to talk in detail about what happened. We are all different. I would urge to leave the statement in.
No offense, but I personally disagree. I am not an expert, but when something happens, it isn't a good idea to bottle it up. Therefor, not talking about it will make you extremely upset. However, if you feel like talking about it is uncomfortable, then that is your opinion, and I respect that.
I want people to ask me what happened when my wife died. It makes me feel like she mattered on earth and is not forgotten.
I completely agree. I feel the same way about my husband.
As a young, childless widow, and caregiver while my husband was ill, one of the very worst statements is when people say, "Well, maybe you're better off that you didn't have children." People, don't say this to widows or widowers. It's very, very painful, and even if intended well, it won't be received as helpful. Have compassion, be gentle, and just sit with someone and let them talk freely, put no expectations on them. Don't interrupt. Just sit, listen, and hug if invited to do so.
I know what you're saying I am also a young childless widower wife and I couldn't have kids no we always wanted them she would have been the best mother ever I think people that care just don't know what to say but I feel like you're supposed to say something there's nothing you can be said that's what I tell them I'm sorry for your loss
I can empathize. We were not able, but could have done it by other means. It is heartbreaking to have the man you love die after caring for him and knowing how much he wanted to LIVE!
I am glad, we did not have children, as I would not want them to experience this unexplainable pain.
Sharing the fact that he is gone helps me with the hurt.
Melissa, we agree with you completely. And we are very sorry for your loss.
I lost my husband Jan 30 of this year. He died in his sleep. I woke up and tried to give him CPR but it was too late. We were married 12 years but it felt like a lifetime.Nothing but death could have parted us. We had no children together He was 9 years younger than me.He was only 39 years old. Brilliant funny loved life. I am almost 50 He was my whole life.I hate when people say He's at peace now. He was not in pain he made the best of everything in life. We had peace together. I also hate when they say I must go on with my life. What would they have me do, really? At least, right now I feel as though my life is over I'm a shell of a being. Stuck here without my heart or my soul...
Right now I feel as though my life is over I'm a shell of a being. Stuck here without my heart or my soul.
Never truer words have been spoken. 128 days of pain, 128 days and counting with no signs of letting up.
I am very sorry for you loss!! You must be totally in shock!! I lost my Dad, December 1 2018. I still want to call him everyday! He was my Dad not my husband so a totally different relationship!! I truly miss him and my heart is broken. Prayers for you!!! ❤️
I lost my Bill to ca 1/6/20, I was his caregiver for 1 1/2 yrs, we are married 10 together for ten prior, both from dysfunctional families, have no kids together, yes I feel alone alot I'm 51 he would have been 60 1/22. I feel like an orphan but I have to gone on and honor him in everything I do even the littlest thing and smile and know we will be together again someday. I cry everyday and listen to alot of music
Such is life! Sometimes we pass through situations we dont have control of. All we need to do is tp bear whatever it is. I also lost my wife and daughter in one day. I once decided not to remarry but life has to go on since I am still young and healthy. Please live positively everyday.
As a widow for five months now, I have researched the topic, gone to some grief recovery meetings, and experienced helpful and marginally helpful approaches to interacting with widows. For me, the kindest approach to help me through the grief is for the other person to ask me, "Do you want to talk about it?" All the other person has to do is quietly listen while I talk. If I come to a stopping point, then the listener can ask, "Is there more you'd like for me to know?" If there is, then continue listening. If not, comment on what the widow said about her deceased husband, such as, "I knew John was a great golfer, but I didn't know he taught golf at the local college," or whatever is fitting for the deceased husband. Hearing validation that the widow's husband was a man of worth is very important to her, unless he was a bum she's glad to be rid of. Of course, it is always fitting to express your condolences to the widow, but it is never helpful to tell her how she should feel. Never. At least, that's my opinion. No one knows the depth of my love for my deceased husband. I called him my self-taught, multi-talented Renaissance man.
He was spectacular! He was a professional writer and musician and provided me with the kind of life I dreamed of. He was my Romeo, a real romantic. I could go on, but you get the idea. Again, if you want to console a widow, ask her if she wants to talk about her husband. Then listen, make appropriate, occasional comments about what she is saying, but do not volunteer any advice, no matter how well intentioned, about her grief, unless you want to refer her to a grief support group she may not know exists. Again, you would first ASK HER A QUESTION. "Would you like to know about grief support groups here in town?" If she says no, don't push her. She may think about it later and decide to give it a try. If not, then she has her reasons. Again, these are just my opinions from my own experience.
Kathy, we are so very for your loss and can't imagine what you are going through. It's okay to feel what you feel, you lost a huge part of your life. Many times, people say very unhelpful things to grievers. We hope that you have someone safe to talk to, someone who will listen without judgment or advice. You can also search for one of our Grief Recovery Specialists in your area who can work with you on your loss, by clicking here: https://www.griefrecoverymethod.com/grief-support-groups.
Patti, we are so very sorry for your loss. Thank you for your kind words and advice. We are in agreement with you, that a very helpful person can just sit and listen and that you should never tell a griever how to feel. Great insight and helpful advice!
Very well articulated and thank you so much for sharing. So sorry for the loss of your prince.
"Stuck here without my heart or my soul.."
Oh so true! So sorry that you are going through this. ... 72 days - 10 weeks. Today has been hard, feel so hopeless and alone.
A better thing to say would be, "If there's anything you want to talk about, I'll listen". Then if you want to bring it up, feel free.
I also lost my husband on New Years Day of this year. The pain is unbearable at times but I'm trying. I have good days and bad days. My condolences to you
My friend and I talk on the phone every day, and I try to be an active listener. I taught communication skills to children and adults for many years, so I have some clue as to the "listening" part. But she is so hopeless, so tired of living without her best friend, that I now find I have no words to say. What can I say or do to help my friend? My heart aches...for my dearest friend, for her kids, for my husband and frankly, for myself.
I’m so very sorry for her loss and of course you and your husband’s loss.
Sometimes there is nothing that you can say. So, perhaps just assuring her just how important she is and her troubled feelings are that she is suffering through. Perhaps she is going through some of the hardest parts of the mourning process, but I would not say that to her. Just continue to be her loving, kind and gentle friend. Tell her you are always there for her no matter how bad her feelings get
I can so relate to people saying oh yes I lost my Mum/dad no it's not the same as losing my Husband of 42yrs my family havnt gave me no support by that I mean a Hug say "I am here for you" they said silly things "How did Mum cope then when Dad died" "We all have to die" I told them I don't want to hear this! Oh don't get angry you must one said ! I have said why don't you read up on Grieving? We are all different please don't compare me with anyone in fact my family have made me feel so much worse x
Dear Lynette, I'm four years late in this response to your post, but I am very moved by it, and feel compelled to respond. You are correct. No one but our all knowing God can understand what your particular loss and dreadful pain is like. It is futile to seek for true and complete understanding from anyone. Our family and friends do try,however, but miss the mark ninety nine percent of the time. We must try to understand what they are trying so hard to do. It's like when our mothers used to promptly disinfect and cleanse a nasty wound we received while playing out doors. It hurts even more,but in time you see she did the right thing. Try to discover a way to understand that and simply accept it. Like wolves we lick each others wounds. By doing so you will gain another level of healing. I lost my beloved wife of twenty-two years. It took the better part of eight to ten years to feel slightly human again. In time,however,you will, but for your own sake you must not place barriers between your experience and those folks attempting to help you heal. I detected this in your words. And I quote..."NO - IT ISN'T THE SAME!!! ". And also..."Unless you have lost a spouse - you have no idea of what pain is like." I say the following with all due respect to your terrible experience. It is solidly established in Human Psychology and with those of us who have experienced it, that there is nothing in the human experience that is more agonizing than the loss of ones offspring. Nothing!!! I can offer only one word as a feeble attempt to describe it. HELL!!!. One would eagerly and immediately accept a bargain to descend into actual hell for eternity if they could have that precious soul back. There is always those in our lives that not only "understand" your experience, but have far surpassed it. I swear to you my dear lady you are not alone. YES! this "new life" SUCKS!!! But they used to say to us when I went through special forces training in the military many yrs ago, "EMBRACE THE SUCK"! It was the only way one could succeed the grueling course. So embrace the suck Lynette. Embrace it hard. Never let go until one day you will gradually discover that it has released its embrace on you. Forgive those people who try to help you but fail. Don't lose them. You will need them later in your recovery. Remember, 'Light Cometh In The Morning'. Until those better days...'YOU GOT THIS'! You are a woman created in Gods own image. You are powerful! May all merciful God bless you abundantly.
- forever lost.
I lost my husband on November 8 this year. He died in his sleep. I tried to follow the instructions given to me over the phone by the emergency service and even called neighbours in, but was too late. We were married 10 years, together for 11......... for ever......... He was 2 years younger than me. I am nearly 52. He would have turned 50 a week after my birthday. We had no children, but a stunning cat (who is my reason for surviving the aftermath). My husband and I were never apart from the day we met. We meant when we said "til death do us part" at our ceremony. The same place we got our marriage certificate from 10 years ago, now sent me his death certificate. We had peace and full-on honesty. We created art together. He was the most generous person - both emotionally and materially. Hysterically fantastic humour. I stopped laughing only when he died and I don't want to create art any more. He was positive. I keep living each day because I cannot betray our beautiful cat. I want for me and the cat to go to sleep together and just not wake up, both of us. Just peacefully not wake up. I envy my husband. I haven't got a clue what to say to you, but I feel everything you are saying.
I expect that I should wait for her to tell me, but then should I pretend that I don't know (so that she can tell me in her own way), or should I acknowledge that I know in case it spares her some pain?
I have a new relationship, he had to have a complete physical before I could even think about committing to him. We are having a good time enjoying each other's company. I am not yet 50 and I am looking forward to spending the second half of my life with him, it does get better!
How are you? Your loved one is gone and it sounds like your support system may not be the best. Are you able to find a support group for widowers or even a therapist?
Do you speak of your loved one, often?
Do you talk to her?
I know that I find it helpful to express myself about my losses, I have also on occasion, yelled at them about how damn unfair the whole situation is. I do this while alone. I do believe that they hear me and I do not care if others think that I am odd.
You must grieve the way you grieve, no time limits and no judgments.
When I was a new widow, I thought that I should be with my husband as well. I truly needed to work through all of that pain and I am not going to lie, it sucked out loud.
There are no easy answers and no real time frame for grief, I found peace at the gym and watching movies we had seen together, a lot of tears too.
In my opinion, closure is a myth made by people who have not lost a loved one. You are correct, there is no closure, the only thing I have found that gives me real peace is honoring the lives lost by living as I feel they would have wanted me to. It is almost impossible some days to even get out of bed, but the best I can do is try. I offer up my pain to my loved ones and hope it will lessen someday.
I am very sorry if this was unhelpful, but grief is so very personal, the only way to work through it is to work through it.
Again, loss of a loved one is just unfair and painful.
There is only one thing I can say to you, and I know this for a fact:
he's fine, and he's waiting for you.
Please ask God directly to see if this is true.
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Two days after loosing my husband my cousin called me to tell me that I shouldn't be that sad, cause there were so many other men out there. I could easily remarry and that I was lucky that I was young.
In the first week a lot of people came to visit me and there was a lady from church who told me that it's a good thing that I was not pregnant. More people asked me if I was pregnant. When I told them that I wasn't, they acted as if they were relieved. Some of them were like 'thank God'. I remember how painful that was. Cause I was not only grieving my husband, but also the fact that we would never have children together. I don't think anybody should ask a lady in general if she is pregnant, cause that's nobodies business. How come people think it's ok to ask a lady who has just lost her husband if she is pregnant.
A few weeks after loosing my husband I was still home.. Not going to work. I was still in my survival mode when a 'friend' called me and asked me if I was getting over it. That was so painful to me, cause I knew that this same 'friend' could not get over her man who had been treating her bad for years. How come I had to get over my best friend who had loved and cherished me for years. I had to get over the person I shared true love with. Just because he was not alive? Her question just reminded me on how ignorance some people can be.
Somebody told me that he knew that it was painful... but he had to tell me that it was not OK for me to still wear my wedding ring. That same person was wearing his wedding ring and he dared to look me in the eyes and to tell me something like that.
I am from an African background and several 'aunties' told me to remove my late husbands picture's from my house.. or to even throw/give away everything what belonged to my husband. According to them that would allow me to find new love sooner.
What hurts a lot is when people tell me that everything happens for a reason. Don't tell me there was a good reason for me to loose my husband after 2 months of marriage. If that's what you think, then keep that for yourself.
What I still can't stand is when people tell me now .. you see I told you that time would heal your pain... Look at you.. you look great! Do they know how I feel in the morning when I wake up to this emptyness..? Do they know why I came late? Maybe I cried in the car and fixed my make up over again... Maybe I just cried in the toilet..! Do they know how I feel after a long day when I am not able to talk to my best friend? Who told them that time is healing my pain? Who told them that I am getting over it? Do they know why I sleep through the weekend? I am exhausted!!! I am still in pain and I am still learning how to handle certain situations. Is it because I smile again..? Because I have not lost my sense of humor? Because I fix my hair and make up? Because I go on vacation's..? Even if I have to go alone? Is it because I take care of my self? The truth is that I will probably never get over it, but I will get trough it. I don't need anybodies approval about how or when.
Your grief is your own and you should be able to cope with it in any way that helps you get through each second, minute, hour, and day. I hope you're doing well.
Any advice on what to do or say that might make her happy or provide her any comfort?
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