What Not To Say To A Widow

Welcome back to another post, today i’m writing about the comments I received once I was widowed.

I hope this might help others in What Not To Say To A Widow, I wish there was a manual I could have given out at the time!

I’ve already written about my worst comment from the driver to the cemetery on the day of the funeral, who said to me, ‘You mustn’t have loved him that much‘ because I wasn’t a crying mess in his car. You can read about that here.

But moving along to some others that I like to call the ‘At leasts’.. Whenever I heard a comment beginning with this i’d cringe, and while i’m being a bit harsh in adding these to my list…please use them with caution!

1. Being back at work one day early on, I was surrounded by a gaggle of women at my desk (I say gaggle because they really were like geese!) asking me all sorts of questions, when one of them asked where Nick was buried and I replied, ‘Yan Yean Cemetery’, it was then one of the ladies turned and said, ‘At least you know where your husband is!’ 

I was too stung by what she said to reply, but honestly, I would have given anything to have my husband late home from the pub with mates every night, then be buried in a cemetery somewhere! Am I right?

2. At least you’re young enough to remarry  this was uncool because well, my husband had ‘just’ died and I was in no mood to talk about a future relationship yet alone marriage. Give it a rest people!

And it also makes it sound as though, I somehow needed a man in my life to be ‘whole’ again. Heard this many times, hated it, smiled and nodded through gritted teeth always!

3. At least your daughter met him  again being a bit harsh here, but really she met him and lost him within 12 months, how much of that time does she remember – zero.

This goes hand in hand with the other one I heard often At least she’s young enough to not remember him, like somehow we should erase all memories of Nick and just go with the immaculate conception story instead.

On a side comment, my mum’s neighbour upon hearing I was engaged to marry John, came to visit and congratulate us, while instilling her words of wisdom along the same vein, saying, ‘Don’t mention Nick to Claudia and let her think John is her Dad’. My blood boiled, but again I thanked her for the suggestion and said we would continue to talk about Nick ,so she’d know who her Father was and how much he loved her.

I also have no problem with Claudia calling John by his first name and not Dad, because in her eyes, while he is a father to her, she has only ever know him as John and we are both comfortable with that. If she chooses later to call him Dad, then it will be solely up to her, no pressure from us or anybody else.

4. Continuing with the At leasts….I heard many times over, ‘At least you have your health.’ This is not a helpful comment, while I may not have a terminal illness, the emotional scars from losing a spouse or partner take years to overcome.

Insomnia, over thinking, anxiety and general sadness, make you not feel like yourself. And it is not healthy to be eating cheesy toasted sandwiches and popcorn every night, which may or may not have been my diet of choice!

I would have given anything to be the ‘sick’ one and take away his pain, I felt guilty many times during his illness that I was the ‘healthy’ one.

I add these At least comments to the list, because although they are said mostly with sincerity, using At least as your beginning, is a way of making light of what’s happened.

I understand it’s a way of looking on the bright side, but at that time, it might not be something you are capable of doing in the early stages of widowhood. They feel like a direct hit and a way of downplaying the situation.

5. Good on you for being in a new relationship, I couldn’t do that I love my husband too much’  This is a completely true comment from a family friend. Somehow insinuating, that I didn’t love Nick as much as she must love her husband, because if he died she could never be with anyone else! How very noble of her!

I heard this a few times when John and I started dating, the well done to me, like i’d won some award for moving forward, but the back handed comment, of it’s not something i’d do, if I was in your situation.

To this I say, us widows give ourselves a hard enough time moving forward without anyone else weighing in unannounced, making us feel worse.

I definitely had what I called ‘relationship guilt’ when John and I first started out, it seems unnatural to date again when your heart is still with your late husband, but you learn to work through those emotions.

If you’re lucky enough like I am, to have such a supportive husband, who’s patient and understanding, then that’s what will get you through, and not worrying about what other people are thinking of you and how soon, quickly, suddenly you find love again.

Because we all deserve a chance to find our round 2 of love and be happy.

6. I don’t know how you’re coping, I would have fallen to pieces comment, I know this comes from a good place and is all about making you feel good about the way you’re ‘handling’ things, but it didnt work that way on me.

It only made me feel inadequate, like I wasn’t grieving properly, that being calm and in control wasn’t the norm, why was I doing this so differently??

Besides, it was never a conscious effort for me to ‘be’  that way, so I never took this comment as a compliment, to me it sounded like, ‘you’re being weird, why aren’t you all emotional like I would be?’

7. Call me if you need your lawn mowed/you need food/ want to chat? I will not call you to get things done, if you want to mow a widow’s lawn, just rock up and do it, if you want to assist with meals, drop some at the door, if you want to me to chat about my feelings, just call and act normal.

I always hated these comments, I was far too independent to call anyone for help and it was a weird concept for me to ask anyone for food favours either. (Thanks though to my mum, sis and mum in law for feeding us most days!)

I think it makes you feel better that you’ve offered to help, but it means more if you just do it.

8. I know how you feel I lost my grandfather/neighbour’s mum/third cousin to cancer This didn’t make me feel any better, at the time, I was the only young widow I knew, it doesn’t compare to most other deaths. While every death hurts and leaves a void, losing your spouse/partner at 32 is a little out of the norm, especially being that I also had a young daughter.

Comparing that to your 80 year old grandfather dying, is like comparing my favourite classic red nail polish to one of my bright new neon colours, they’re completely different!

I’ll leave it for there for now, and will add this, one of the nicest, most sincere comments I ever received, was when someone would say, ‘i’m sorry, this sucks, I don’t know what to say.’ It’s honest and real and what connected with me the most, because there is nothing anyone can say at that time, that can make the situation any better.  It’s just sucks.

For anyone wondering what the ‘right’ thing to do is, just be there, hang around, be normal, let them rant and cry, listen, just do things without asking, bring meals, fill their fridge, be present. Don’t leave them alone to give them space to grieve, they will most likely prefer your company!

I hope I haven’t been too harsh with my list, I would love to hear your thoughts and if you’re a widow what crazy comments you heard!

Thanks for reading along,

Michela xx

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22 thoughts on “What Not To Say To A Widow

  1. As usual Michela, another great and honest post! I found my jaw wide open for a lot of those!…I too had one of those ‘I know how you feel, it was like that when…’ moments about someone’s dog!!!…I’m a massive animal lover, but come on?!! Keep doing what you’re doing, it’s great – and such an honour to Nick, Claudia, John…oh and let’s not forget little old you!! xx

    1. Hi Angela,
      Thank you so much for always being so supportive of my blog, yes we all hear such strange remarks, that are mostly better left unsaid. I got the dog one too, how they compare is beyond me, and Ive lost a few family pets along the way!

  2. Thank you for this.
    I have incurable breast cancer (not terminal) and I worry terribly about my husband. I know he feels guilty about being the healthy one and of course that’s irrational but I don’t know how to help him.
    Also I want him to be happy after I go but the thought of him with someone else upsets me terribly even though I’m not a jealous person as a rule. I will never voice this to him.
    However I am so glad to hear you are happy in another relationship. I guess things do get better???

    1. Hi Lindy, im so sorry to hear about your condition, that sucks. Yes, I understand all too well about feeling guilty for being the healthy one, but there is not a lot that can be done about it. I’m sure he knows how important he is to you, and that he needs to be well to help look after you when you’re not feeling your best. That’s how I used to try and think about my situation.
      I know it’s also hard to think one day he may be in another relationship and who knows he may not go down this path, but having a companion in life does make things more enjoyable again. It did get better for me, my husband passed almost 4 years ago and I remarried 3 years later. The best gift he ever gave me, was repeatedly telling me to move on once he was gone, at the time I didn’t want to hear it, but once he was gone, it helped to know I had his permission to be happy one day again. I would suggest being honest with your husband and saying, I don’t really want you with someone else, but if it happens I would be ok with it. He wont be thinking about it now, but one day he may think back to your conversation and feel ok about it, if it ever happened. Hope that makes sense, just my opinion though.
      Michela xx

  3. Such an honest post, beautifully written. I found myself nodding along to your points. I heard so many ‘at leasts’ when my son died. I know they were mostly well-meant and just didn’t know what to say. But there are no at leasts in this situation. You’re right, people just need to be honest and say ‘it sucks’ or something similar, because it does. People need to think a bit harder about what they say to the bereaved, and how they say it. xxx

    1. Hi Leigh, yes absolutely right, it’s sometimes best to say nothing at all, than another ‘at least’ because they don’t add anything to the situation.
      Hopefully blogs like ours, go a little way to clearing this up for people reading along. xx

  4. I just so love your honesty and openness,, how true theses comments are, I have heard them said by colleagues to grieving relatives and I cringe inside. As you have said the best thing to do is to be there,, I have had the wettest shoulders ever without saying a word. Sometimes people just want a hug and a look and open arms is all they need and a shoulder to cry on,, or even someone to vent their anger on. A listening ear is always the better option, it isn’t easy to say nothing, but it is a technique I have learned with practice and experience. Take care and keep us updated on how life is going it’s always great to read your posts Love Chris x

    1. Hi Chris,
      Thank you, sounds like you are the perfect person to have around in times of loss. Like you say, you just need to ‘be there’ and listen, let them vent without trying to reason with them. I’m always so surprised by the amount of people, who never having been through the same, have such pearls of wisdom to bestow, mostly better left unsaid. Thank you for reading along and writing me, I love hearing from you!
      Michela xxx

  5. Thank you Michela for your clarity and wisdom. Truly you have hit it right on, yet again. It’s hard enough without all those idiots. I think there should be some required course in grief for everyone. Too bad there isn’t.

    1. Hi Stephanie, yes, I wish there was a manual I could have given out as people came to visit, could have prevented some unwelcome comments and moments. I know it normally comes from a good place, but honestly people do not think before they speak. Let’s hope blogs like ours help a little way in getting the message across.

  6. I know I’ve said this before, but I’m so glad you post this! #6 has me written all over it. It’s nice knowing I’m not doing something “wrong” in the grieving process by NOT falling apart frequently. I have my bad moments but overall, I’m trying to remain positive and happy and just remember the good times. It’s been 2 months and I have to keep living my life, so telling me “I don’t know how you do it” isn’t really helping me. I do it because I HAVE to. I don’t have kids but I have a fast food business to run, I HAVE to get up and do things every day, I don’t have a choice. Thanks yet again for posting!!!!

    1. Hi Jill,
      Yes, I hated the ‘i dont know how you’re doing it’ comment, killed me every time, like we have a choice to sit and sulk all day. I admire your positive outlook and though it hurts like nothing else, life does continue and you have no choice but to live and like you say, run your business. Just because we don’t ‘fall apart’ doesnt make us any lesser widows than those who cry all day! You are doing a brilliant job at two months out, by staying positive and remembering the good times. Please feel free to vent anytime, i get it!
      Michela xxxx

  7. One I got that you didn’t mention is, “Now you can get out and do things.” (Like your husband mine had been ill for a long time.) “Excuse me! I was doing things, I was caring for my soul mate!”

    As more time has passed I’ve decided that the vast majority of comments that annoy widows are coming from a place of concern—ineptly worded, but still meant to help or comfort. I also have decided that there are few things a person can say to a fresh widow that doesn’t hit them/us wrong.

    1. Hi Jean, yes, that’s a good comment I got too, that I forgot to mention, got a few, ‘now you can start your life again’, so offensive, because we were living life and doing things with our ‘soulmates’ and we wouldnt have it any other way, right? And yes, I think at the time we are overly sensitive so it can be hard to say the right thing, but still just being normal goes a long way, instead of trying to drop their pearls of wisdom,

  8. An amazing blog again I look forward to reading every week! You are a pretty patient person if those people had said any of that stuff to me I probably wouldn’t have taken it as well as you that’s what I admire about you is that you still can be patient and nice with all the stupid things people can say. I know some people mean well sometimes but your right being honest and being normal is the best thing people can do and say at a time like that they need to be there for u no matter what! Can’t wait to read the next blog xx

    1. Hi Janelle, thank you for always reading along and being so supportive. I do like to think im a fairly patient and understanding person, or else I might have lost even more friends at that time, had I told them what I really thought of their stupid comments, but I guess I alwys knew it was coming from a good place, no matter how offensive to me it seemed. I wish more people were just ‘normal’ with me in those early stages, instead of tip toeing around, waiting for me to crack!

  9. As always Michela great words, and oh so true, people should learn to choose their words very carefully or maybe even think before they speak. We all think we speak words of wisdom until the shoe is on the other foot. Your strength is amazing . xx

    1. Hi Lynn, thank you, I love hearing from you.
      Yes, people think they have such pearls of wisdom for you in these times, but generally it’s better left unsaid and helps no one! Thank you for your support always xx

  10. Brilliant!!! I have a few I can add to the list from when my brother died. People are funny creatures… we have to try to fix everything or minimally make it better. …but hey, at least you can laugh about it now, right?

    (sorry I couldn’t resist!) ; )


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