What (not) to say to a fresh widow

Readers, if you’ve landed here because you’re trying to find the best way of talking to someone who has been widowed, thank you for being considerate enough to actually look for advice on this topic. Because, I can tell you, some people can be total knobs, insensitive shits in what they say and we widows have a low level of tolerance for idiots.  We are also sensitive souls who take offence at things that “normal people” wouldn’t.  Forgive us for having had our hearts torn out and our brains mushed up by tragedy.

First thing to remember is that there is absolutely nothing at all on earth that will fix a widow or widower so set your expectations low when it comes to receiving gratitude for your words and actions.  You can’t give us what we so desperately want.  In the immediate period after my wife died, all I wished for was for her to come back to life.  In my mind, if you couldn’t make that happen, then you could fuck off.

Start with “I’m sorry for your loss.” and stop there. STOP! Wait. Be present, make eye contact, wait for a cue, and for fuck’s sake, don’t do the “sympathy head tilt” and ask “how ARE you?” because the plain and simple answer, particularly in the early days, is likely to be “I wish I was dead too“.

Upon reflection, it’s probably easiest to write here about what NOT to say or do. Below are the basics:

  • Don’t compare the loss to anything you’ve experienced – dead grandparents, cats, dogs, parents. Unless you’ve been widowed, you really haven’t a fucking clue about the nature of this pain.
  • Don’t start any sentences with “at least…” or “if I were you I’d“. None. Nope. There aren’t any exceptions.
  • Don’t say “let me know what I can do“. Be more specific. We have no idea what we need, let alone what you can do. If in doubt, bring food, tissues and pay for a Netflix subscription.
  • Don’t ask how we are unless you are prepared to listen to the whole uncensored shebang. [Thank you to those friends of mine who listened to me tell them hundreds of times how wife hung herself. I know it can’t have been easy.]
  • Don’t say “she’s always with you“, “she’s no longer in pain“, “you’re lucky that you had such love”, she’s in a better place“. It makes us want to bitch slap you.
  • Don’t tell us to be strong. We’re allowed to be weak.  Our world as we knew it just collapsed, ok?
  • Never try telling us “life goes on“, or “God will never give you more than you can handle” or any other pointless phrases.
  • Don’t tell us to seek “closure”. That’s absurd.  It’s one of those things you won’t understand until you experience a close personal loss.
  • Don’t tell us we’re looking good. Looking good is no reflection of how we feel. It’s just lipgloss and mascara.
  • And for crying out loud, never tell a young widow “You’re young. You’ll find someone else.” Perhaps it may be true but this isn’t a case of “out with the old, in with the new” and hearing it from you makes us want to punch you in the face.

So to script what might be one of the worst possible monologues you could say to a widow:

“How are you?  You’re looking really good. I’m so sorry for your loss but I know that God has a plan for everything.  Oh, please don’t cry. She’s in a better place now and at least you’re young and hot – you’ll find someone else.  When I lost my dog last year, it was so, so difficult.  I knew he’d been in pain so it was for the best but my heart ached for him.  I just wanted to be able to stroke him one last time, you know?  I really do understand some of your pain.  It took a while but I was able to find closure, be strong, and in the end we went to Battersea Dogs Home to adopt a new one.  Now, I feel much more fulfilled, happy.  I promise, you’ll get to this point too – I know you’re strong and can move past this.  Is there anything I can do to help?”

You won’t get it right, but try.  Sometimes saying “I don’t know what to say because I can’t fathom being in your position” is helpful in itself. Thank you for being a supporter of a wid.  Stick around please.

Do any readers have other points to add?

(With thanks to Wifeless from the board for inspiring some points on this post)


3 thoughts on “What (not) to say to a fresh widow

  1. Thank you ec, after many mortifying experiences surrounding this subject, these instructions will be most appreciated. Feel free to elaborate in subsequent posts, as this isn’t my place to divulge.

    Mr man bun


  2. Concur. Good read.

    Not long after losing husband, I wrote a blog post for a big Australian mummy site. All about the do’s and do not’s. Because people don’t realise the do not are fucking HUGE when you’re world just exploded.

    Thanks for sharing part of your journey.


    • MazyK, thanks for popping over to my blog. You’re absolutely right about the do nots. In one sense, widowhood gives you a better sense of perspective – what’s important in life, acceptance of things that cannot change. But in another, widowhood also makes us super sensitive to things that pass others by, and once upon a time would have passed me by. Never did I consider before the difference between “moving on” and “moving forward”. Weird.


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