What to say

What to say to someone who’s been widowed (and what not to say)

In her book – “If there’s anything I can do... How to help someone who has been bereaved” – WAY’s former Chairman Caroline Doughty has gathered some of the best things to say (and not to say) to someone who’s been widowed.

Here are the best things you could possibly say to someone who has been widowed:

  • I’m so very sorry
  • I can only imagine how hard it is/how awful you feel
  • I remember when... tell stories about the person who died
  • I miss him/her too
  • They’d be really proud of you
  • You’re doing a great job
  • Spend Sunday with us, we’d love to have you over
  • I’d like to do something to help – give me a job
  • Shall I come round and bring dinner with me?
  • I’ll do the driving
  • I’m going to take the children out for the whole day

And here are the top things not to say to someone who’s been widowed, and why:

  • I know how you feel 
    Unless you’ve been widowed too, you simply don’t know how it feels
  • When my uncle died/when my granny got cancer/when I got divorced etc.
    It’s just not the same
  • Call me if you need anything
    Your friend won’t be able to ask for help unless you offer something more concrete
  • You’re being so brave
    Your friend is just getting on with it...
  • You have to move on/get on with it/you should put your grief away
    Everyone grieves differently and it may take longer than you’d expect
  • You should be resting, taking it easy, being kind to yourself
    How? When you have a house to run, and maybe a living to earn and children to care for

And an extra one that many WAY members hear:

  • At least your mortgage has been paid off
    Many people labour under the misapprehension that widows and widowers must be rolling in it after cashing in their partner’s life insurance. The reality is often very different. Many widows and widowers struggle financially. And no amount of money can compensate for losing the person you love.

Further reading

  • Helpful tips from Care for the Family about what to say - and not to say - to someone who's been bereaved.
  • Is there anything I can do... How to help someone who has been bereaved - a book by Caroline Doughty (White Ladder Press).
  • Here's an article in The Guardian about Caroline Doughty’s book.

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