Perhaps because my late husband was a pastor, some people
thought they were helpful after Tom’s death to tell me, “God needed another
angel in heaven.” (Wrong! I needed that angel beside me, not gone away.) Or
they said, “I know exactly how you feel. My grandpa died this year.” (Definitely
not the same.)
I wish they would have said, “I can’t imagine what you’re going
through now. Would you like to tell me about it? I’m a good listener.”
aren’t helpful or comforting to a widow without her husband, her partner, the
love of her life. Here are several more phrases to avoid when talking with a new
widow, along with suggested alternatives.
“He’s in a Better Place Now”
People often try consolations such as, “He’s in a
better place now.” This phrase makes assumptions – about life, death, and the widow’s viewpoint. It might
not fit the widow’s spiritual beliefs. Don’t cause additional distress. Just
avoid this sentiment.
Instead, talk to the widow about her husband. Share memories of
him, tell a story about a time you spent with him,
or an important value he cherished – such as caring deeply for his family.
Keep his memory alive. Even though her husband is
dead, she will continue to be in this new and changed relationship with him for
a long time; maybe even forever.
“It’s All Part of God’s Plan”
Attributing death to God’s plan can be upsetting or
offensive. First, you may make an incorrect assumption about a woman’s beliefs
and religion. Additionally, a widow may even question her own faith after her
Although your sentiment may be heartfelt, avoid
these platitudes to sidestep an uncomfortable or hurtful situation for the
Choose Your Words
Instead, say, “It’s hard to understand why death happens. None of
us know the answers. But I want you to know I’m here to help make this difficult
time easier for you if I can.”
“I Know What You’re Going Through”
Every person, marriage, and experience with death is
unique. You cannot understand exactly what a widow is experiencing, and it
isn’t productive or soothing to tell her you know her circumstances.
Instead, say, “It’s normal for you to feel confused, angry, or
stressed.” By recognizing her feelings and
reassuring your widowed friend or family member that her emotions are valid,
expected, and normal, you may calm some part of her distress.
A widow’s flood of emotions can be overwhelming.
Reassuring her that her state of mind is part of a larger grieving process can
give her hope that she will pass beyond her current deep stage of grief.
“You’ll Find Someone New; You Can Remarry”
pain of losing a spouse is immeasurable, and the prospect of sharing that
intimacy with a new person can be upsetting, frightening, or heartbreaking.
Talking about future relationships is not a good approach, and although some
may think it could cheer up a grieving widow, it’s likely to have the opposite
focus on the important friendships the widow enjoys in her life. Her current
network provides the solid, uncomplicated support she needs.
fortunate to have many good friends. Their support will help you through this
difficult time. Take them up on offers to help, get together for lunch or
coffee, or go for a walk. They want to be there for you, like you would be for
“You’ll Be Even Stronger in the Future After This Experience”
on, the widow is just getting by –
hour to hour at first, gradually making it through an entire day. Whatever
might be in the future is impossible for her to visualize soon after her
husband’s death. The love, joy, and happiness are gone, and she doesn’t have a
clue how she can be stronger in the future.
A New Kind of Relationship
talk about how death isn’t fair when it comes. “It’s really so difficult now
because you loved your husband dearly during his lifetime. Yes, your
relationship is certainly quite different now that he has passed, and I know
your love for him will always last.”
“Call Me If You Need Anything”
your intention is heartfelt and sounds caring, don’t put the burden on the
widow to reach out to you. She already has much on her mind and may not be
thinking clearly at first.
statement is also very open and nonspecific. She’s probably in an emotional fog
and may not even know what help she needs from you. She also might feel
uncomfortable asking for assistance. It could be hard for her to pick up the
phone to call.
Take the Initiative
say, “I’ll contact you on Thursday so we can schedule time to catch up over a
cup of coffee or a glass of iced tea soon.” Do the widow a favor by suggesting
a date and time. When you make the call, be sensitive to her emotional state.
she’s comfortable with setting a time and place to talk. If you can, offer to
help with activities that seem overwhelming. For example, you might offer to
accompany a newly widowed friend on a trip to her estate attorney’s office if
Just Say Something
Regardless of what you say to a widow, it’s most important to
say something. Acknowledge that her spouse is dead. Don’t avoid the topic. Talk
about something you admired about her husband, or how you enjoyed sharing
conversations or an activity together.
People often sidestep the topic of death altogether which can
be hurtful to those who are grieving. Your words and expressions are critical
to show that you care and are supportive in her grief. And use his name in your
conversations. Widows don’t want the world to forget their late husband.
What statements have you heard conveyed to new
widows? Which of them do you think have the opposite of the desired effect? Do
you have any practical tips to share? Please do so in the comments below.