What Does It Mean People Say Their ‘Late Husband?’


There are many ways to refer to someone who has recently died. Even if you’re looking for a way to speak about someone who died several years ago, there are several phrases commonly used to reference the deceased person. One such descriptor is the word “late.” As opposed to the meaning they aren’t arriving on time, late, in this context, refers to a person’s status as deceased instead.

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Ever wondered how this phrase came to be? We’ll dive into the use behind this phrase, what it can mean, and when you should use it when speaking of your dearly departed spouse.

What Does ‘Late Husband’ Mean?

Many people use the term “late husband,” not because their spouse is perpetually lacking in punctuality, but as a way to refer to a deceased spouse. A late spouse can refer to a partner who has recently died. In general, this phrase is generally used for anywhere from just after their death to several years afterward. How long the term is used is largely up to the individual using it, but generally, the term is dropped after several years.

Many widow(er)s will refer to their “late” spouse as a way of introducing the person into conversations. It can be difficult to balance their new status as a widowed spouse and reference their significant other who is no longer present. Many widow(er)s consider themselves married even after their spouse passes away.

It may take years before they decide what to do with a wedding ring after a spouse dies. The grieving and adjustment process will always be different for everyone and some people may choose to refer to their spouse as their husband or wife indefinitely after their death.

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Why ‘late?’

The term “late” referring to someone’s spouse that recently passed away comes from centuries worth of old English usage. In the 1300s, the term started meaning, “occurring lately” or “in the not too distant past.” Eventually, the wording found its way into conversations about the deceased.

Today, we use this word to talk about someone who lately or recently died anytime from a few days to several years ago. Many spouses use this term when speaking about their significant other. Chances are you may hear this term used in support groups for surviving spouses.

Here are some general guidelines when using the term “late.”

Consider using it in the following situations:

  • You are in conversation with someone who is unaware of your spouse’s passing.
  • You are discussing your deceased spouse in a group setting.
  • Your spouse has recently died.
  • You’re speaking about someone else’s deceased spouse.

However, there may be no need to use the term when:

  • You are in conversation with someone who already knows of your spouse’s passing.
  • Your spouse passed away ten or more years ago.
  • You’re speaking to someone about their deceased spouse.

Examples of ‘My Late Husband’

Wondering what this phrase sounds like in everyday conversation? Here are a few examples of the phrase.

“My late husband was a wonderful musician. I have several recordings of his original work if you would like a copy.”

“I miss my late husband terribly. It’s only been a year since he passed and it feels like yesterday.”

“Jenny’s late husband was a wonderful man. He worked tirelessly to set up a library in his hometown.”

“On behalf of my late husband, I’d like to say thank you for throwing this memorial dinner and fundraiser in his honor.”

What Are Alternatives to Saying ‘Late Husband?’

Though the term “late husband” does have a place, there are many ways to say the same thing without using that exact phrase. Here are several alternatives if you want different options for speaking about your or someone else’s deceased spouse.

1. Deceased spouse

After “late husband,” one of the most commonly used phrases to speak about a husband who died is “deceased spouse.” This phrase works well for both the widow or someone speaking about the widow’s husband. 

You can use this combination in any type of conversation from person-to-person to a letter or text. The only place it might sound a little too cold is if you’re writing a personal message in a sympathy card. In that case, you may want to choose a different phrase.

“My deceased spouse would have loved to see this band.”

“Their deceased spouse was a wonderful, kind-hearted man.”

“I thought of my deceased spouse just yesterday when I passed his favorite park.”

2. Spouse who passed away

This option is a little wordier but it works well in a number of contexts. If you’re speaking about your spouse and you don’t like the words “deceased” or “departed,” then use this phrase. You can also clarify how long it has been with this phrase. Here is what it would sound like in several scenarios.

“My spouse who passed away in 2018…”

“Her spouse who passed away a year ago...”

“I’m so sorry to hear about your spouse who passed away last week.”

3. Late spouse

“Late spouse” is an alternative method for saying “late husband” and is essentially a synonym for the phrase. This can be used in any context from conversations to text messages and works for both the widow and someone talking about the widow’s husband.

“Her late spouse passed away from cancer.”

“My late spouse was very interested in your work with cancer research.”

“I know my late spouse would have wanted to congratulate you on your promotion.”

4. Dear departed husband

This phrase is not as common as it used to be but is most often used in the context of writing about one’s deceased spouse. The wording is more antiquated and you won’t hear it that often these days, but if you like it, that’s what’s important.

“My dear departed husband would always tell me how beautiful I was before he went to work.”

“Johnny, my dear departed husband, was such a riot; he could always get us to laugh.”

“I miss my dear departed husband so much.”

5. Use their name

Sometimes, it’s absolutely appropriate to simply use the name of your deceased spouse. Using their name works best when talking with someone who is already aware that they’ve died or in a context where you don’t need to clarify.

“Gabriel loved walking to this park so much that I think of him whenever I drive past it.”

“I found several old letters Derek had written to me when we were dating.”

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6. Husband who passed on

This phrase works well in a variety of conversational circumstances or written messages. Use this when talking to someone who may not be aware of your husband’s death or when speaking about someone else’s husband who is no longer living.

“My husband who passed on last year would have loved this performance.”

7. Previous spouse

If you are a widow who is getting remarried or is remarried, this phrase is ideal to use when speaking of your former spouse who passed away. 

“My previous spouse was a wonderful man who always told me he’d want me to be happy again if something happened to him.”

“Her previous spouse shares many similarities to her new husband - both men are kindhearted and love children.”

8. Husband who is no longer with us

This phrase is also on the lengthier side but it works well in nearly any context when speaking of your deceased spouse. Use this when talking with someone who might not be aware of your husband’s passing.

“My husband, who is no longer with us, would have turned 65 today.”

“Her husband, who is no longer with us, was great friends with my husband.”

9. Spouse who lost his battle with...

If you need a phrase that introduces a terminal illness for the reason of a person’s death, use a phrase such as this. This works well both in conversation and in writing a message to someone.

“My spouse, who lost his battle with cancer, was very passionate about children’s music education.”

“Her spouse, who lost his battle with ALS, was one of the kindest men I knew.”

Remembering Your Late Husband

There are many ways to speak about our loved ones who have passed away. While any of the options are appropriate, the most important thing to keep in mind is how you feel when speaking.

Choose a phrase that expresses your feelings and communicates your husband’s passing in a way that is the most comfortable for you.


  1. “Late.” Words, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2020. etymonline.com/word/late

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