When your friend is facing the death of their spouse, their world may be collapsing in on them. Though they may have time to prepare, it is possible for your friend to lose perspective of the world around them. They may even start to withdraw from their friends and family. As a friend, not knowing what to say to someone whose spouse is dying can be difficult and frustrating.
Our Top Book Picks for Supporting Your Friend
- The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs ($11.79)
- The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion ($11.71)
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Should You Say to a Loved One With a Dying Spouse?
- What Should You NOT Say to Someone With a Dying Spouse?
Knowing how to comfort someone in this situation can prove elusive to many people. A common reaction for someone witnessing this type of grief is to withdraw and not say anything at all for fear of saying the wrong thing. However, staying in contact with them may prove to be a very important way to show your support.
If you’re looking for some suggestions, below are several supportive things you can say to a friend whose spouse is dying.
Tip: You can help someone whose spouse is dying by understanding the intricacies of post-death details and responsibilities yourself Then when the time comes, you can help answer some of the questions they might have. You can refer to our post-loss checklist or even share it with your loved one whose spouse is dying or deceased.
What Should You Say to a Loved One With a Dying Spouse?
There’s never really any right thing to say to someone facing the death of their spouse. No words can take away the immense pain felt knowing that someone you love is dying.
However, there are a few things you can say to comfort and encourage your friend that things will not always be as they are now. You can reassure them that their pain and suffering will ease one day.
Messages for in-person
Supporting your friend in person as they’re going through this difficult time is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. There’s comfort in being there in person to offer words of encouragement and a shoulder to lean on when things get tough.
In true friendship, even silence speaks volumes. If you’re physically there but can’t think of the right thing to say, it’s okay to lend your presence in silence. For the times when words are needed, try some of the following phrases:
1. “I know this is hard. I’m here for you.”
Acknowledging that what they’re going through is difficult, and offering your support can do wonders for someone who’s been struggling with coping with their grief. You can provide comfort to someone without having to say much.
2. “I don’t know how you feel, but I want you to know I love you.”
One of the best things you can say to your friend is that you don’t know how they’re feeling or what they’re going through. Even if your spouse has died, everyone’s loss is different in some way.
Don’t assume that you know how someone feels, especially when they’re facing the death of their spouse. Your friend may resent you for thinking that you know the level of loss they’re feeling right now.
3. “I’m sorry you are going through this. How can I help?”
There are no words needed to let your friend know how sorry you are that their spouse is dying. It’s not necessary to say this out loud. Your presence and actions speak louder than words at a time like this.
What your friend will remember most is that you were there and you offered to help in some way.
4. “Do you need a break? I can stay here while you…”
Offering a respite to someone who’s been keeping round-the-clock vigil at the deathbed of their spouse can provide not only a break from their exhaustion but a mental and emotional break as well.
Encourage your friend to take some time for themselves to shower, change clothes, and take an overall break from caregiving duties.
5. “How about some coffee?”
Take your friend out for some coffee at a local coffee shop or hospital cafeteria to offer them a change of scenery. Expect them to put up a fight, but insist on even a short mental-health break for their sanity and well-being.
6. “Let’s go for a walk.”
Going out for some fresh air is always a good idea. If your friend is at home or at the hospital with their spouse, make an effort to stop in for a visit and encourage them to go out for a walk with you.
You’ll provide much-needed support, a mental break, and some fresh air and exercise to recharge their energy reserves.
7. “What do you need for me to do for you?”
There’s always something needing tending to, whether at home or work. Ask your friend how you can help them make their life more comfortable at the moment. Do they need help with childcare, household chores, bill paying, or anything else?
8. “Can I read for you both?”
If you don’t know what to bring someone in the hospital, bring some books about faith, love, death, and dying with you at your next visit. We recommend The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs or The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.
It may help both your friend and their spouse prepare for what’s ahead. Sit with them and read aloud from a few chapters that are fitting.
Messages for a card, text, or DM
Sometimes it may be difficult or impossible for you to offer your support in person. You can still provide words of encouragement and support through a card, text, or direct message. Here are some examples of what to say to a friend when you can’t be there.
9. “I’m thinking of you both.”
A message doesn’t have to be complicated or drawn-out. A simple text or direct message to let your friend know that they are in your thoughts and prayers goes a long way in showing your support.
This type of message can serve as a little pick-me-up or mood-booster when things get tough.
10. “Sending my love and prayers to you.”
Quick and frequent messages such as this one sent throughout the day offer encouragement. Send well-spaced and periodic short messages throughout the day to remind your friend that they are not alone during this difficult time.
11. “You don’t need to be strong right now. I’m here for you to lean on.”
Messages like these take the pressure off of needing to be strong all the time. Even the strongest of your friends need support now and then. It can be emotionally draining having to be stoic when all you feel like doing is crying.
12. “Every day is a gift.”
This simple and powerful message is perfect for a card, text, or DM. The reminder that every day of life we’re granted is a gift not to be taken for granted.
Leave room for your friend to think about the message and what it means to them without crowding it with other filler words. Sometimes the simpler the message, the more impactful it is.
13. “It’s the challenging times that make us stronger.”
We all experience hardship and heartache at different times in our lives. These are the moments that shape who we are and build our character. When things seem to be insurmountable, remind your friend that we must endure pain as a part of life.
14. “Sometimes, the only way through suffering is straight through it.”
These words of encouragement and hope can help remind you that there is a beginning and an end to everything, including suffering. To live and love is to suffer.
15. “Grief is the price of love.”
This beautiful quote reminds us that without love, there is no grief. And as painful it is to have love and lost, there is more pain in never having loved at all.
16. “You are not alone.”
This message reminds your friend that although they may feel that they are going through this alone, you are there for them during their time of need.
Follow up this type of message with other words of encouragement. Give your friend options and examples of ways that you are there for them.
What Should You NOT Say to Someone With a Dying Spouse?
Even though someone is on their deathbed facing their last days, you still want to give the allusion of hope for recovery or that things will get better. When you say something that makes it seem as if there is no hope and the only thing left to do is die, it can hurt both your friend and their spouse who’s dying.
Never assume that the person who is dying will not be able to hear you and the things that you and your friend discuss in front of them. Choose your words carefully as if you’re saying them directly to the person facing death. Be mindful that your words can have a deeper meaning to someone who is suffering or is close to dying.
“God has sent for his angel to come home.”
Saying something like this to someone whose spouse is dying can be a cruel way of intimating that somehow this person deserves to die or that their time is up. It erases any hope of healing or recovery.
“Everything happens for a reason.”
Whenever there’s no explanation as to why things happen to certain people and not others, people tend to throw out this overused phrase. Saying this to someone whose spouse is dying can imply that their spouse somehow deserves to die.
These words can be offensive and insulting to some people, especially if they are not particularly religious.
Comforting Words for a Friend Whose Spouse is Dying
Choosing the right words to say to a friend is not always easy. Harder still is fighting the urge to keep quiet out of fear of saying the wrong thing. It’s okay to admit your fears and anxieties to your friend and ask for forgiveness when things don’t come out as intended.
When your words are expressed to match your good intentions, they’ll be thanking you for being a friend and giving them your love and support.