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Nobody knows what to say when a friend’s spouse dies. Of course you want to say the right thing—but in the face of such an enormous weight of grief, everything you say can sound trite. Still, there are better things to say—and worse things. Here’s a list of things to avoid—and suggestions for better options.
He or she has gone to a better place
This has got to be a tough one to hear. The grieving widow or widower might smile and thank you for the sentiment, but inside, they’re probably thinking “what better place is there than with me?” Of course you don’t mean it that way—so don’t say it.
The death of a spouse is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a person. And for friends and family, it can be very tough to know what to say.
Not everyone believes in God. Not everyone who believes in God believes that a kind, fair God would take their loved one away. A death in the family can cause anyone to question their faith—and hearing that the death of someone they loved is part of some mysterious plan may not be comforting for everyone. Avoid sentimentalities about God unless you are extremely close to that person and know their faith—don’t assume anyone shares it, even if they attend church with you.
If there’s anything I can do, just tell me
Many people dislike asking for help. It makes them feel weak and incompetent. And if they don’t know you that well—or even if they do—it’s likely the widow or widower won’t want to inconvenience you.
Instead of making an offer like this, which is doubtless meant but difficult to cash in on, simply state what you will do for the person. Tell them you’ll come over and cook for them on Tuesday—or you’ll be their errand person or complete some chore or yardwork the dead spouse used to take care of. Then do it—without being asked if it’s possible, and without fuss. This gives the grieving individual the help they need without the embarrassment of having to ask for it.
I know how you feel
Unless you have had a spouse die yourself, you probably don’t truly know what this person is going through. Saying “I know how you feel” when you haven’t experienced a major death in your life can trivialize the grief the other person is going through, even if you don’t mean to do it.
There’s a reason for everything; it was his or her time
Indicating there is a “reason” for a person’s grief is almost as bad as saying it’s part of “God’s plan.” The person you’re talking to may or may not share this sentiment, but if they don’t, it can come off as a bit hurtful. For many grieving people, it’s difficult to imagine what good could come of a plan that involves the death of someone they love.
It’s been six months—isn’t it time to move on?
Grief takes as long as it takes. One of the hardest things about grieving is that the grief continues long after the sympathy ends—and people expect you to have “gotten over” it. Instead, sympathize with the person no matter how long it takes them to grieve. Many take years to heal from the death of a spouse.
The death of a spouse is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a person. And for friends and family, it can be very tough to know what to say. Sometimes the best solution is to simply be there—do things for the grieving widow or widower that you know they need, without being asked—and offer your sympathy and love.