What do you say to someone when they've lost their spouse and emotions are running at their peak? Knowing what to say to a grieving widow may tighten your bond or drive a permanent wedge in your relationship. Not saying anything at all or distancing yourself can also push you further away from a recently widowed loved one.
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Many people who aren't comfortable with death have a fear of saying the wrong thing. They make the mistake of distancing themselves from the situation until it blows over. This can be just as damaging to someone who's grieving as saying the wrong thing.
If you feel at a loss for words, we'll help you figure out what to say and what you should avoid saying. You can also consider giving a flower arrangement or sympathy gift basket to offer comfort and support.
Post-planning tip: If you or a loved one has been recently widowed, handling a husband's unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
What You Should Say to a Grieving Widow
Knowing how to help a grieving friend is not easy. Fear of ruining your friendship over saying the wrong thing may be giving you anxiety causing you to panic, and to shut down.
Consider carefully what you’ll say when offering your condolences, whether it's in person, on social media, or with a sympathy card. The days following the death of a loved one is the time when emotions run high and things tend to get misconstrued. The following examples might help you say the right thing:
1. "I’m sorry for your loss."
This is the most common and universally accepted phrase that acknowledges their loss without saying too much. When you tell someone “I’m sorry for your loss,” it’s direct and to the point.
2. "I can’t imagine how you feel."
When you tell someone that you “can’t” understand how they’re feeling, this opens up the opportunity for dialogue. They may choose to tell you how they’re feeling, or they may acknowledge you with silence. In either instance, allow them to take the lead without forcing the conversation.
3. "We all share in your grief."
Expressing that you share in your loved one’s grief is a show of love and support for them. These words are kind and giving without having to say too much.
4. "Let me have the kids."
A grieving widow might benefit from time alone to sit with their grief. A person experiences a lot of emotions and different types of grief when saddled with the death of their spouse.
It takes time to process and figure out exactly what they’re feeling. Offering to take the kids out for the day or the weekend will likely be appreciated.
5. "I’ve prepared some meals for you."
A person who’s grieving will likely not have an appetite for days following the death. If left alone, they may forget to eat until reminded to do so. Preparing and delivering meals to your loved one will help them by taking the guesswork of what to eat away from them.
6. "I’m here to help you."
There’s a huge difference between offering to help someone and doing things to help them. Most people who are grieving find it difficult to ask for and receive help. You can make it easier on them by showing up ready to take on any necessary tasks or chores. You’ll need to practice your assertiveness when it comes to helping your loved one. Try not to take no for an answer in a loving and caring way.
Helping your loved one can also come in the form of spiritual and emotional help. It may be that they need a little extra help coping with their loss. Offer to join them in prayer, meditation, or accompanying them to a widow support group.
7. "Take time for yourself."
Giving someone permission for a little self-care can do wonders for them especially when they may be feeling guilty over their spouse’s death. Let them determine how they’ll use their time without filling their schedule with your agenda or ideas.
8. "You’re doing a great job."
We all need a little motivation and encouragement to keep us going at times. Offer praise for a job well done without sounding condescending. A simple “you’re doing a great job” reminds them that they’re doing the best that they can under the circumstances.
9. "They’d be really proud of you."
This is another way to encourage your loved one to keep moving forward while acknowledging their loss. Find a reason or reasons to say this to your friend every now and then so that they don’t lose hope as they learn to cope with their grief.
What You Should Never Say to a Grieving Widow
Finding the right things to say can be just as hard as it is easy to say the wrong things.
Take care not to fall for it when your loved one tells you that it’s better to say something than nothing at all. Saying the wrong thing can be damaging to your relationship. If you find that you’re uncomfortable around death and don’t know what to say, here are some examples of what not to say.
10. "They’re in a better place."
When a widow hears that their spouse is in a better place, they most likely will wholeheartedly disagree with you. To them, it may not matter that Heaven needs another angel, or that God has a greater plan for them. They’ll tell you that they need them here with them, or that their kids need them just as much. Try saying the alternative phrase instead.
Alternative: “I know it must be hard without them here.”
This works because you’re acknowledging that their death has created an irreplaceable void in their lives.
11. "Everything happens for a reason."
Saying this to someone is very insensitive when they are struggling to comprehend their loss. They may get defensive and ask you to name all the possible reasons you think that their spouse deserved to die.
Alternative: “Sometimes we’ll never understand the reasons why things happen the way they do.”
This works because it acknowledges that there’s no comprehensible reason for why their loved one had to die.
12. "What are you going to do now?"
This well-intentioned question may be the breaking point for someone who really doesn’t know what they’re going to do now that their spouse has died. They may be feeling overwhelmed with what’s next and how to take care of everything on their own.
Alternative: “Let’s talk about how I can help you with the next steps.”
This works because you’re offering a solution to them that will help them figure things out instead of sending them into panic mode.
13. "That’s too bad the kids won’t have both parents."
Again, this is just the wrong thing to say. Although they may understand and agree with you, it’s a very unkind thing to say to someone. They’re faced with having to move forward without the person that was supposed to be there to help them. They already know it’s going to be difficult not having them there.
Alternative: “I’m sorry that they won’t be here to see the children grow up.”
This works because you’re expressing lamentation over something that is regretful in a more caring and loving way.
14. "You’ll feel better in time."
When you say this to someone, you imply that this is only a passing thing. Your loved one may resent how quick you are to dismiss the relationship they once shared with their spouse.
Alternative: “Take all the time you need to heal from your pain and grief. I’ll be here for you.”
This works because you’re acknowledging that this is one of the most painful experiences of their life and you’ll be there to help them through it.
15. "You’re still young, someone else will come along."
Saying this to someone who is brokenhearted over the death of their spouse is hurtful and insensitive. The last thing a widow is thinking of when they’ve just lost their spouse is going out and finding a replacement.
Alternative: “You’re lucky to have found love with someone as wonderful as them. I’m truly sorry for your loss.”
This works because you’re reminding your loved one that love is difficult to find and theirs is irreplaceable.
16. "They weren’t the greatest anyway."
Keep the negative comments and opinions to yourself. This is not the right time to give your take on your loved one’s choices in love.
Alternative: “I’m sorry that you’re having to go through this pain and suffering.”
This works because you’re expressing solidarity with your loved one in their pain and suffering without any negative feedback.
17. "Now I have you all to myself."
This is a selfish way of saying to your friend that you love and support them through their loss.
Alternative: “I’ll be here for you through thick and thin.”
This works because you’re able to get the same point across without celebrating the fact that your loved one is now free to spend more time with you.
18. "I know what you’re going through."
It can be highly offensive to a bereaved widow when you say that you can relate to what they’re going through. Even if you’ve also been widowed and have experienced this type of loss, it can be hurtful when you compare their pain to yours.
Alternative: “It must be very difficult for you right now. I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
This works because you’re recognizing that it’s not easy losing their spouse without making this about you and what you went through.
Saying It Right
Aim to say the right thing from the start so that you can avoid unintentionally hurting your loved one at a time when they’re already in so much pain.
When you do it right, they may not remember what you said years later, but they’ll remember that you were open to supporting them during one of the toughest times of their lives.