What not to Say to a Widower

Most people have good intentions, but they do not have the experience or the information about how to help a widower that is grieving.  Common questions we frequently hear can do more harm than good.  "How are you doing?" or "How are you holding up?"

I cannot tell how many times widowers in our grief support group bring up these questions and ask "What do people expect me to say?! That I'm fine?  That I'm getting through it?  I feel like telling them :

  • I'm not fine!
  • I cry every morning, I cry every night
  • I feel physical pain beyond my imagination
  • I fell lonely and lost
  • I'm angry at the world
  • At any moment something can set me off to a bout of crying or anger"

During the first two weeks or so after losing their wife, many widowers are just going through the motions.  After this period ends they often enter into a deeper grieving period that can last weeks or years depending on the person.  The last thing they want to hear is "How are you doing?"

So what can you say or do to be helpful? 

As the widower navigates through his grief journey many are looking to tell their story and their wife's story. This process helps them heal.  Here are some ideas on how to approach them:

  • If you knew his wife share a fond memory of your own
  • Ask directly "How can I help?"
  • If you did not know his wife "What did she like to do?"
  • "What did you enjoy doing together?"
  • Take them to lunch

Start with the above approach and you are much more likely to have a meaningful conversation and one that helps them in their grief journey and healing process


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