Top 10 Things To Never Say To A Grieving Widow

Anders_Zorn-The_WidowI lost my husband on June 15, 2010.  He had stage 4 cancer and had suffered a brain bleed after chemo, so while his death was not unexpected it was still heart-breaking.  Yet, regardless of whether your loved one is suffering from a long, debilitating, terminal disease, or dies unexpectedly, it is still a shock when they go.

What amazed me more than anything else after his death were the remarks I received.  I am sure the people who made them meant well.  Perhaps they didn’t know what to say, and said the first thing that came into their heads.  But what I learned from this is what not to say to someone who is grieving.

Following are the top 10 worse things that were said to me after the death of my husband, and the replies I wanted to say.

Image Credit


#1 – “At Least You Were Prepared”

The widow hears: “It’s not as if he suddenly dropped dead”.

I don’t think I was ever prepared for his death.  We found out in early May that he had cancer, and the doctor told us that with chemo, he could live up to a year.  Without the chemo, he probably had 6 months.  Unfortunately, it was only 4 weeks after his chemo that he passed away.


#2 – “He Is In A Better Place”

Angel-of-Grief-LathropThe widow thinks “Why is it better for him to be dead, than at home here with me?”

My assumption when someone says this is that they mean the suffering is over, and he has gone to heaven.

Image Credit


#3 – “You Are Lucky That You Had The Time Together”

The widow thinks “Yes, we were lucky.  But it wasn’t enough time.”

I suppose this is where the quote “It is better to have love and lost, then never have loved at all” comes in.  Frankly, forever wouldn’t even be long enough!


#4 – “You’re So Brave. I Don’t Know How You Handle It”

Don’t believe outward appearances.  I’m not brave.  I did what I had to do:  Take care of him in his final days; make funeral arrangements, and try to say good-bye.   It is what you do when you love someone, and there is nothing brave about it.


#5 – “What Happened To Him?”

“He died.”

This is a conversation to have with another person, and not the one that is grieving.  The grieving widow is already re-living the experience, and having to tell it to someone else causes more heartbreak.


#6 – “I Know How You Feel”

Everyone grieves differently, in a very personal matter.  I do not know the grief you feel, and you do not know mine.


#7 – “If There Is Anything I Can Do, Just Let Me Know”

“The one thing I want is for you to bring my husband back and end the pain.”

From experience, I know that I will not ask you.   Instead of asking what you can do,  tell the person what you are going to do for them, and follow through with it.


#8 – “It’s Like Getting A Divorce”

She thinks “At least if we were divorced, he’d still be alive!”

I have been through divorce, and death is nothing like it!  Yes, it is a tragic event, and yes, you grieve.  But, in a divorce, there was a choice by at least one party to end the relationship.  In our marriage, we didn’t choose  to end it.


#9 – “How Are you?”

Do not ask this question unless you want the truth. 

If I am with an acquaintance, I’ll say something like “I’m okay” or “I have good days and bad days”.  The truth?  I’m sad, I’m tired, I cannot sleep nor eat, and I miss my husband.   How do you expect me to be?


#10 – “Why Didn’t You Tell Me He Died?”

I believe I had other things on my mind the evening my husband died.  If it hadn’t been for my stepson making all the calls, probably no one would have known.


More Things Not To Say

After my husband’s memorial service, friends held a barbeque luncheon in our yard.  At one point during the luncheon, one of my husband’s closest friends approached and asked “What are you going to do with his tools?   I’d like to have first shot at them.”  I looked at him in disbelief!  After all, my husband had only been gone for 4 days!

While the statements above were some of the worst I have heard, there are several more that you should never say to a grieving widow:

  • Everything happens for a reason
  • He lived a good life
  • Now you have closure
  • At least his suffering is over
  • He wouldn’t want you to be sad
  • How much life insurance and money did he leave you?
  • When are you going to remove your wedding rings?
  • When are you going to start dating?
  • Isn’t it time you got over him?


Grief Is A Peculiar Thing

Until you have experienced heart-wrenching grief, it’s difficult to understand.  Your entire world is turned upside down, and it’s difficult to see beyond the sadness.  What I have learned is this:

If you, or someone you know, loses someone, go with the grief.  Don’t hide behind it, and don’t let anyone tell you how to act.  It’s a personal tragedy, and only one that you can understand.

And most importantly, forgive those who say the wrong things. 



Copyright 2012-2015 | TheWidowClifton

Originally published October 28, 2012 on


Have you lost a spouse or other loved one?

This article is about what not to say to a grieving widow.  Do you have any statements to add?  Or better yet, what types of things should you say or do for someone is grieving?


9 thoughts on “Top 10 Things To Never Say To A Grieving Widow

  1. I’m so sorry that you had to go through losing your husband and hearing some insensitive remarks. Thank you, though, for educating those of us who have never had to deal with deep grief from the loss of a loved one. I will definitely keep this list in mind when comforting others.


    • I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of a couple of these myself. Especially “If you need anything…..” Thanks for the visit and comment… so much appreciated!


  2. Wow, so sorry you are subjected to some very insensitive remarks. Others could be attributed to people meaning well and just not knowing what to say. I agree with you that instead of saying ‘if there is anything I can do’ they should just do it.


  3. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and your pain. Someone said to me “You’re So Brave. I Don’t Know How You Handle It” which just made me feel desolate. However, when my aunt’s husband died recently, after having cancer for 20 years (amazing I know) I was flummoxed about what to say. It is just so difficult.


  4. This was really great to read. I never know exactly what to say. I have said in the past “if there is anything you need, let me know.” I know understand that I should just do something for that person instead of asking. Thanks for the insight on this topic.
    I’m very sorry for your loss.


  5. I usually say “There are no words just hugs”. I have been told that I am a good listener so I also sometimes say a while after “If you ever need to talk or vent, I’ll listen. My Grandpa passed away 8 years ago this year and my Grandma finds it hard to this day. I strongly feel that one person cannot or should not ever tell anyone how long they should grieve.


    • Gosh, I really like the “hugs” saying! I am also a good listener, and found that someone who is grieving just wants to talk about it. It doesn’t cost you anything other than your time to let them vent.


  6. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ve heard many insensitive comments made to those who have lost loved ones and I just vaguely remember some of the more ignorant comments, but these people didn’t know any better. I find those who are at a loss for words usually say something stupid, and those who should be at a loss for words, I wished they hadn’t said anything at all. People ‘assume’ they know how you feel, but they do not, even if they’ve lost a husband or a wife. People’s feelings are very different and their grieving processes are very different. What I found more shocking was when some friends heard about my loved one’s death, after the funeral service, rather than coming face to face to tell me they were sorry or whatever, was to avoid me – even when we were in public places, they would head in a different direction. It made me think that people believe if they don’t make the ‘event’ that they’re not on the hook to convey condolences. I don’t know how others might feel about something like that, but I took exceptiom to it.


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