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Thursday, June 6, 2019

12 Dumb Things People Say To Widow(er)s and what you can try instead.

What NOT to say to a grieving widow. 

In this article, we will talk about how to be sensitive to a widows loss, and not make things worse.

Photo by Claudia on Unsplash

There is no loss like that of a spouse. It doesn't compare to your grandmother, divorce, and especially not to your dog. We understand you are trying to relate, but many times you do it in a way that feels insensitive to the loss we've experienced. The following are actual things we've heard and how you can attempt to do better.

Note: It's likely that nothing you say can help. The goal of anything you say should be to convey your care, acknowledge (and not minimize) our pain, and let us get it out if we want to.

Dumb things people say to us and why it’s so idiotic…

1. “You are being so strong!”

We think, "No, friend, I’m a mess and I am not sure if I’ll ever be able to feel normal again."

While it's true that the greatest strength is sometimes leaning into the struggle and facing it, most of us Widow(er)s are not feeling strong in any way. Our world has shattered. In fact, we may be contemplating suicide or battling dysfunctional depression and we are surviving right now, not thriving. Hearing this only helps us know that you don't really see us for who we are in this moment.

Instead, try saying "I know it's so hard and you feel shattered, I see you, I hear you."

2. “Your kids need you.”

We think, "Yes, I’m aware that my kids need me, but I need my spouse and now I feel completely alone. I’m sinking and you expect me to save someone else."

We will find times to pick ourselves up off the floor, wipe our tears, and make food. We will love on them and cry with them. Some of us may even need you to take them for a few hours because we cannot physically move, overwhelmed with grief. In rare instances, you may need to take them for longer and let us go to a treatment facility.

Instead, try saying "Can I take the babies for a few hours while you rest?"

3. “You’re so young. You will find someone else!” 

We think, "Death doesn’t end love and my heart has exploded inside my chest, yet you expect me to be comforted by you telling me that I’ll find someone else?"

We built our life around this person, our inner and outer life. That dream has shattered into microscopic pieces and cannot be rebuilt. While it's true that we may find and forge a new relationship, it will not be the same. It will be qualitatively different. It will not replace this one. It's not a car. "Oh gee, your car got totaled, but you can by a new and better car.".

Instead, try saying "It's devastating to lose your spouse at any age but you are so young to have lost like this already. I am so sorry."

4. “It’s time you start dating to keep your mind off of your spouse.” 

We think, "I don’t want to date and I don’t want to keep my mind off my spouse."

Here again, there may come a day that we open our hearts to love again. And if we do it before we're ready and then break up with that person, the compounding of the grief of those two very different losses may set us back decades if we're not careful. Let us decide if and when it's time to move forward. When we do move forward, we will always carry them with us, even into the new relationship. They are a part of us now, we "became one". They are who we are, and our new spouse (should we decide to love again) will be falling in love with who we are today because we knew (intimately) our first.

Instead, try saying "Is there something we can do to honor your spouse's memory today?"

5. “My relative (insert name here) died too, so I know how you feel.” 

We think, "Your aunt, brother, grandfather, whoever, wasn’t your spouse, your one true love, your soulmate, so you really have no clue how I feel."

There is a reason why marriage is considered such a divisive topic, why people swear they'll never get married and say "It's just paper". While it's true that some marriages are without true intimacy or connection, we were designed to "become one" with our spouse (paper or not). There is no other form of human interaction as integrated as a couple that decided to become one for life. We do not minimize or devalue your grief and it is important and meaningful, it is just not the same. Nothing is the same. Even two widows picked at random had different types of relationships with their spouse and grieve that loss from different places within their soul. We were torn in two. We did not lose "a part" of ourselves, we lost half of ourselves. We became one and then it was ripped from us. We will never be the same person that we were before we joined and then lost.

Instead, try saying "I have grieved a loved one but I have never grieved a spouse. I cannot imagine what that must feel like. I am so sorry."

6. “When my dog died, I was devastated so I know exactly what you’re going through.” 

We think, "Are you serious?? I love my dog but the love for my spouse doesn’t compare!"

While the nature of people's relationship with their pets can be close to the heart, and it is true some do love them like family. Here again, this is not your spouse, see number 5.

Instead... try just not saying this at all. See number 5.

7. “I got divorced last year and I wish my ex would just die!” 

We think, "You have no clue how this feels and because I know this pain I would NEVER wish this on anybody!"

There just is no comparison. Take it from those of us who have survived a divorce, remarried, and lost that second spouse. It's not even in the same ballpark. We loved our spouse, fought to make it work, and they were ripped from us. For whatever reason, many legitimate reasons, you and your spouse chose to part ways. Maybe they left you emotionally long before you left them physically, those are both choices. They were not suddenly and inalterably ripped from you. No choice was involved. And take it from those of us who were going through a divorce that wasn't finalized when our spouse passed away, it wasn't what we really wanted in our heart of hearts. The pain of loss is far more than you can imagine. With the possible exception of extreme abuse, if you get your wish, you may find you regret it.

Instead, try saying "I recently went through a divorce and had to grieve the loss of the dream we'd built together. Even then, I cannot imagine what you must be going through because you still loved him/her."

8. “You’re lucky they died and you didn’t have to go through a divorce, that’s expensive and nobody feels sad for you!” 

We think, "You’re an idiot." See number 7.

9. “Good thing you never had kids together, because they died anyway.” 

We think, "What I wouldn’t give to have a miniature version of my beloved spouse."

We built a life together. That life included dreams of a future family. At least if we'd had a child, their legacy would live on and we could tell them amazing things about their missing parent. This is simply double grief, loss of ourselves and loss of a promise that didn't come.

Instead, try saying "Your spouse was an amazing person, I'm sure your kids would have been adorable."

10. “At least they didn’t choose to leave you, that hurts so bad.” 

We think, "Death is forever, I promise it hurts worse than a breakup."

When you break up with someone, divorce or pre-marital, you are both making choices. It's possible one of you fought for the relationship and the other left, or you agreed it wasn't working. Either way, there is no comparison. We became one, then half was ripped from us. See number 7 & 5.

Instead, try saying "I cannot imagine losing someone that you were so close with. That must be devastating."

11. “I got a hobby when my husband died. Well, he didn’t die. We got divorced, but he’s dead to me!” 

We think, "WTF is wrong with you?!" See number 5 & 7.

12. “You should only think of the happy times, so you can be happy again.” 

We think, "I’d be happy if my spouse was here so we could have these happy memories together."

We became one. Good, bad, tough, awful, exhilarating... it was all a part of who we were. We will grieve the awesome moments we can never talk about again together because only we shared them. We will grieve the apologies we never got to make amends for. We will grieve it all.

Instead, try saying "Tell me about him/her. I want to hear."

What you can say:

Anything you say should be aimed at:

1. Conveying you care.
2. Acknowledge OUR pain, not yours.
3. Letting us express our pain, if we so chose.


  • "I am so sorry, that must be devastating."
  • "That's awful, tell me about it (or tell me about him/her)."
  • "You must be shattered, is there any task, no matter how small, I can do for you right now?"
  • "Can I take care of (kids, laundry, cleaning, think of something) so you can have a few hours of rest?"


Thank you for spending time with us today.

We hope this helps you either process your own grief or understand those in your life going through it. Please check out our Resources page for more articles and some links to the tools we've found helpful. For more about who we are, click About Us.

Adrianne and Darrell, fellow Widows/Widowers