I know it’s so awkward when someone passes away and you don’t know what to say. When I became a widow, I told people I didn’t care if they said something dumb- I would rather have them talk to me than ignore me. I had to realize most people have not been in my position before and didn’t know what hurts and why. So, I asked my widow friends for advice to give others who have not lost a spouse and I have some of my own… from a widow/widowers point of view…
Here are the 16 things NOT to say to a widow… (Yes all of these are actual things said to either me or my friends.)
1. “I know just how you feel, my ____(insert grandma, dog, etc) died.”
Most couples live together, have children together, are best friends, and dedicate and center their lives around each other. There is no other relationship to compare spouses to. But I believe when people say this, they are trying to be compassionate in the only loss they do know.
2. “You are young, you will find someone else.” or “Don’t worry, we will find you another one.” or “Wow, now you can date. That’s so exciting!”
Finding someone else and marriage is the last thing we are thinking of. They can never be replaced. It’s like they’re saying spouses and relationships just come and go, like Chinese take-out?! My widow friend said, “What do you mean I will find love again? I am still in love!” Usually the first weeks (or way longer) most people I have talked to think they will never love again. Their heart is so broken. How could we face that again?
3.“You need to find somebody who will be the mother to your kids.”
My widower friend shared this one. Yes, we all would love to have a mother (or a father) for our kids, but that was not our choice. Again, not something we are dwelling on at the time of this significant loss.
4. “He is in a better place.” or”The Lord needs him more than you do.”
This was a common, emotional one! My friend said, “I hated the comments of Heavenly Father needed him to do a work that no one else could do. I kept saying his son and I need him to do a work no one else could do. Blah. I know people meant well. I don’t want to hear he’s needed more in heaven than here. I wanted him here.” Another widow said, “I don’t care if there is missionary work to do there, or that he’s with people he loves that passed on before, or that he can help us more from the other side… his kids and I need him here, NOT there.”
5. “Aren’t you relieved you don’t have to take care of him anymore?”
My friend was asked this because her husband had been sick for years. She replied, “No, I am not relieved. I just lost my husband who I loved and will always love and I would do it all over again.”
6. “You are going to be better off financially since you don’t have so many medical bills now.”
Money is the last thing on our minds. People matter, not things. Again we would rather have them here with us no matter what the cost.
7. “I hope he had life insurance. How much money did he leave you?”
That’s none of their business. I do hope people have thought through what they would do in this situation, but that is a very personal and financial decision.
8. “I don’t think I would ever survive if my husband died.” or “I’m glad this happened to you and not me, because I couldn’t handle it.”
The pain is excruciating, but we don’t have a choice. We all must go on and live the best life possible.
9. “How arrrre you?”
Do you really want to know or is this a formality? Because if you want to know, you may get an earful. If you hear fine or good, it’s probably not the truth or they don’t want to fall apart in front of you. Many times I would answer, “not good” or “as good as can be expected.” It’s a really hard thing to answer and a really hard thing to reply to after you hear the widow’s response.
10. “Do you think anyone will marry you now, you have so many kids?”
I heard this one a few times and found strength in knowing I was very capable of doing this by myself. I thought, “I don’t need a man to raise my kids, but would love to add another person into my circle of love when the time is right.” By the way, I was very impressed with the men I dated. They were respectful and still took a chance on love knowing I had six kids. Good guys are out there and I happened to find the most amazing man for me and my kids.
11. “You just need to move on. I’m divorced and I did.”
I had over 100 comments on this emotional topic! Some think divorce is harder, some think death is. It depends on you and the relationship you had. What I learned is divorce and death are both loss and loss is hard. I mostly learned that you can’t judge what another person has or is going through- we are all on our own journey.
Here are a few comments from my widow friends…”Divorce is the ending of a marriage by one or both parties. Widowhood is the end of a marriage by neither party, it ends with death.” “In a divorce, if children are involved, they get to see their other parent. When we have been widowed, the pain of our children missing their other parent is almost more than I can take.” “I’ve had both happen– divorce was worse.” And “I’ve had both happen– death was worse.”
12. “You are lucky. I don’t even like my husband.”
I think this one hurts my heart the most. How could anyone say this about any human being? But I heard it and many others have. Just WOW. If I was not happy in my marriage, I would much rather get a divorce, than have him gone.
13. “So sorry, but you expected this, right?”
“Expected or not, it was the most horrible day of my life.” This was from a friend who lost his wife after a long battle with cancer. Quite a few widows/widowers have told me it is still NOT expected. They kept up the hope and didn’t even want to go there until it happened.
14. “Well, they had a good long life and it was time.”
I am sure the comments are meant to minimize the trauma, but they actually are insensitive. So common to hear this, but so sad. Does loss hurt even if you have had them in your life 80 years– maybe more so?!
15. “It has been months- shouldn’t you be over this by now?” or “How long are you going to be grieving, it’s been a year now?!”
This probably should have been number one! Death of a spouse is not something we will ever be “OVER”. We learn to deal with it and find a new “normal”, but will never forget or be the same. GRIEF IS DIFFERENT FOR EVERYONE. You never know what you will be like until it happens to you. Please don’t judge. Some people don’t show it in public. I know I never did and some people took that as I was fine, not hurt, or had “moved on.” No I am just a private person, and falling apart was done in my closet. Also logic doesn’t really work at the time of death. Emotions seem to have most of the control!
16. “I think the hardest thing for me was the silence. Most friends did not know what to say, so they said nothing. I would walk down the hall, and people would stop talking as I walked by.”
Silence is awkward. For everyone! I would suggest just be honest and say anything like, “I have no idea what you are going through. What can I do for you?”
Even though I heard some pretty crazy things, the positive things people said to me outweighed the insensitive (but not meant to be hurtful) ones – by a long shot. When someone said something that could be taken wrong, I just smiled and thought, they have no idea because they haven’t walked this path. (Thank goodness!)