The Astonishing Things People Say to Grieving Widows
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Short and Sweet Summary: Questionable communication and social skills are on display when you come across some of the astonishing things people say to grieving widows. Don’t you wish people said nothing at all rather than blurt out some of these zingers?
Have you ever come across those folks who, in their attempt at profound insight, tell you they know how you feel because their dog died and it was the most painful experience ever?
Well, it could have been their dog or Great Aunt Bertha or their best friend’s sister’s college roommate, but the point is, they have no flipping idea what you’re going through.
NO CONCEIVABLE IDEA.
Losing a spouse is at the top of The Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory.
NUMBER ONE. With a POINT VALUE of 100.
The stress can’t get much higher than the highest value at the top of the scale.
The death of a pet didn’t even make the list of high stressors. Our 13-year-old Dachshund died the same year my husband died and it was awful. But our dog’s death in no way compared to my husband’s death.
IN NO REASONABLE WAY.
I get that people want to say something, anything to fill the awkward silences and gaps in conversations.
But I for one have had it up to my eyeballs specifically with the following things people say to grieving widows.
They serve no purpose. And, it makes our grief seem small and unnecessary.
Here we go.
Hang on to your hats…I feel a massive rant coming on.
The Agony of “At Least…”
I loathe the “at least” conversations. This might be the worst offender in stupid things people say to grieving widows.
Have you heard these doozies?
What the hell does it even mean? At least.
Whenever I hear the words “at least” I feel like people are trying to minimize my pain. It’s like people are trying to help but only end up making grief seem inconsequential.
I don’t think people realize that what they say and what we hear are two very different things. The “at least” comparison never serves its intended purpose.
You know the ones that go like this:
At least you had time to prepare
My husband died of an incurable brain tumor and we knew from the day of his diagnosis that he was going to die. So according to the general population, I had an ample amount of time to get used the idea of him not being around.
The thing is, no amount of “preparing” helps anyone accept the finality of death. There is no measure of readiness that magically gives you a head start on decreasing the devastation.
This “at least” sentiment needs to be retired. Immediately.
At least you’re young and can get married again
I’ve never understood why it seems like a good idea to offer up another marriage scenario when the ink on your spouse’s death certificate is barely dry.
It’s like people, in their feeble attempt to make me feel better, like reminding me that husband’s death now frees me up to exchange another set of “till death do us part” wedding vows.
How lucky am I that I get to do that all over AGAIN!
As if the heartache, pain and sheer misery of my husband’s death disappears with a new man.
Thank you for reminding me that my husband is replaceable. Woo hoo!
What most people don’t realize is when they utter this “at least” sentiment, it makes them feel better, not you.
At least he’s not suffering anymore
I get that our dead spouses aren’t suffering anymore. That’s a given.
But what about our pain? What about our suffering? I know my husband isn’t suffering anymore, BUT I AM.
Now, I have to hide my own pain and misery because I’m supposed to FEEL BETTER that he’s DEAD and NOT SUFFERING ANYMORE.
I wish people would see the ridiculousness of this platitude. It doesn’t make widows feel better. In fact, if you’re anything like me, it makes you feel worse. Because it doesn’t allow for our grief. It doesn’t allow for OUR sadness or anguish.
I wish people would just say, “this sucks and I’m at a complete loss for words” instead.
Let’s retire the at least sentiments and comparisons once and for all.
The Worthless “What Would…?”
The next contender for the worst words to say to a widow are theoretical. As in, hypothetical.
As in, NOT REAL.
I call this the “Let’s Speculate” game. It’s a stupid game where someone asks me what my husband would do in a particular situation if he was still alive.
Only, he’s dead.
So what’s the practical purpose of guessing his reaction to a situation he will NEVER EXPERIENCE? I get that people fall flat trying to figure out what to say to someone who lost a loved one.
But theorizing the dead person’s reaction to a series of speculative scenarios is irritating at best.
I get really defensive when I get asked these “what would your husband do/say/feel” questions because it makes me feel as if my current decision/communication/reaction isn’t valid.
Like, maybe I’m making the wrong decision? Doubtful in my expression? Not handling the situation well?
I could be taking these questions personally and maybe, just maybe, people don’t intend to second guess my decisions. Maybe, just maybe, they’re making small talk because they don’t know what else to say.
But damn if it’s not annoying.
I do the best I can with the information I have at the current moment. We all do.
If I make a mistake, so be it.
The Narcissistic “I Know…”
I love the folks who know it all.
No. Not really. I don’t love them at all.
Now, it’s not like I hate the narcissists. Really, I don’t. I just wish they wouldn’t try to tell me how much they know about what goes on in my brain.
I’m not even sure what goes on in my brain half the time, so I’m super impressed that other people think they know.
I know how you feel/what you’re going through
Nope. You don’t.
Burying your 85-year-old father doesn’t count. Circle of life, you know? I’m pretty sure you don’t know what it’s like to listen to your son’s heartbreaking whimpers as he cries himself to sleep every night. Or what it’s like to hide in your closet because you don’t want the kids to hear the wretched sounds you make when you cry so hard you choke on your own snot.
No one knows how I do what I do. Or how you do what you do. Or how you feel at any given moment.
I know your husband would want you to stop grieving
I knew my husband better than anyone. So whenever someone tells me they know what my husband would want, I fantasize about gouging their eyeballs out with sharp sticks.
Because that’s what my husband would want if he knew people were trying to tell me what he would want.
I will grieve in whatever fashion I choose for as long as necessary. One thing grieving widows don’t need is unsolicited advice about how to grieve or for how long.
Oh, how I wish other people would stop pretending to know what a dead guy wants. Seriously.
I know he’s in a better place
Please tell me omnipotent, all-knowing, crystal-ball gazer, what place is better than here with me?
The Shameful “You Should…”
I bet you don’t like being told what to do. I know I don’t.
So, the folks who decide to shower us with “you should” sentiments can be the most annoying of all.
You should stop feeling sorry for yourself
Says who? Only those of us grieving know that grief doesn’t have a time limit.
This is the same as “you should move on” or “you should get over it already.” As if the pain and anguish aren’t enough without someone trying to make you feel bad about feeling bad.
You should stop wearing your wedding ring
Again, says who? It’s up to you to decide how long you wear your ring. Wear it forever if you want. Take it off right now if it makes you feel better.
Turn it into another piece of jewelry. Sell it. You get to decide.
It’s pretty presumptuous for others to make bold declarations about what we should do with the symbol of our marriage.
You should quit your job/get a job/move
It’s hard making decisions solo. Especially decisions about jobs or houses or relocating. Other people don’t know what it’s like to make a decision to move from the first house you bought as a couple or stay in the house you raised your kids in.
To work or not work is another individual decision. It’s silly to think someone else can know if it’s best for you to quit a demanding job. Or if staying in a demanding job is just what you need to prevent getting swallowed whole by grief.
So many factors plan into these types of decisions that no one really knows what’s best for you except you.
Widow Wrap Up
We don’t have the luxury of avoiding difficult conversations. We end up getting cornered by well-meaning, but clueless, people who think they know the best things to say to grieving widows.
Only they’ve never been grieving widows.
So, there’s that.
I used to be guilty of these grief faux-pas before I became enmeshed in grief. Now that I know better I don’t say things like “you should” or “if I were you.”
I say, “this sucks” or “I don’t even know what to say.”
I think we would all feel better if people just stopped trying to make sense of the senseless. It’s impossible.
We’ve all tried.
What’s the worst thing someone has ever said to you? Please share in the comments.
- Don’t Compare the Beginning of Your Grief Journey to Someone Else’s Middle
- Where to Find Grief Support Options for Widows
- Resources to Make Widowed Life Easier
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The first comment that blew me away after my husband died was at a surprise birthday party three months after his death. The birthday girl came up to me, who is a friend of 20 years, and said to me” Are you here alone? I thought you would be with three boyfriends“.Mind you, I was married for 31 years & never had a boyfriend during my marriage.really?? Then as I’m standing alone because I didn’t know anyone at the party she came up to me to tell me how depressed I looked. Needless to say I exited that party pretty quickly.oh , and forgot to leave my present there. Oh well🙄
Barb, it’s so crazy what people think is an appropriate thing to say. Ugh!
My husband died 8 months ago, and about 2 months ago someone said to me “ I thought that you would be doing better by now.” Really? I dated him for 5 years and was married to him for 48 years, and you want me to be over it? Totally ticked me off. I also love when someone says that I seem different. Uh yeah, I am different because I’m sad some days and just muddling through on others.
Not even two weeks after my husband died, I had a longtime friend say to me Oh Kelly you’re still young and beautiful, you won’t be alone for long! I couldn’t believe it. It was like the last 30 years of my life that I spent with my husband meant nothing. I know she meant well but it still hurt.
Kelly, I sooooo get it. As if our person is so quickly replaceable? Ugh. People do mean well, but…GAH!
So sorry for your loss. Don’t say that! I didnt misplace him like a pair of glasses or my car keys.
I know, Mary!
My husband of almost 20 years passed away on May 25th from Stage IV Neuroendocrine Cancer. We just buried him on June 2nd. I have heard the phrases, “at least he isn’t suffering anymore” and “now he is at peace” more times than I can count. He spent the two weeks prior to his death in home Hospice care and had the opportunity to visit with many family and friends, so I am often told, “well, at least he got closure”. He left behind four children and two grandchildren that he loved dearly. What about our suffering, our peace and our closure?
Christine, I hear you. I despise the “at least” sentiments the most!
So sorry Christine! Your suffering, your peace, and your closure matter. My husband lost his battle with stage four cancer earlier this year, and others have said similarly hurtful things to me. I’m sorry for your loss, and I’m sorry that others have not been as comforting as you need and as I would like them to be for you and your family.
I know how you feel!! I didn’t leave/lose my husband in asda stockroom.
My fiance died by suicide. His brother blames me and made it very clear that he does – despite the fact that my fiance had issues for years that were well known to all his family. Within 72 hours of me having to throw away my bloody mattress and bedroom carpeting, his ex-wife wanted to know what I was going to do with his truck. SMH. I really dislike people sometimes.
Linda, it’s awful you have to endure terrible people on top of a terrible tragedy 💔. There are no good words for this!
My husband had been in and out of the hospital for several years. But worse than the “At least he’s not suffering now” responses was one neighbor who actually said, “Well, we knew it would happen sooner or later…” 😠
Robyn, that’s awful. Truly. And so insensitive 😔.
I shut this one down immediately. “You’re lucky. Your husband died. My ex-wife is out there running her mouth”. Unfortunately there was no satisfaction of slamming a receiver down on this person’s ears, however, I did have to laugh when I realized what truth his ex was probably speaking if he was that oblivious to my pain of just 2 months from my husband of 20 years passing!
Hi Gabby, the insensitive people never cease to amaze me!
My husband of just over 25 years had a stroke to the brain stem during a surgery to remove a noncancerous brain tumor just last month. Our 19 and 22 year old daughters and I decided to withdraw care 3 days after the surgery, he died 15 minutes later.
I will take the the insensitive comments all day long. It is the people who you thought were true friends and family who do not take the time to send a card or make a phone call, or simply ignore you when they see you at a family gathering. At least the people saying stupid things are trying; and who of us haven’t said stupid things when in an awkward situation.
I have heard pretty much all of the phrases you mentioned in the past 6 weeks. I have learned to just shake my head and say, “Thank You.” Otherwise I may respond with harsh words, a slap to the face or an outburst of tears.
Hi Tammie, I like your attitude. Yes, you’re right. At least they’re trying!
Know how you feel. It’s been four weeks and if anyone mentions they’ve lost a dog I’ll knock them out. I’m raw with emotion and not sure how to cope
My fiance passed away a month ago… one of my friends called me 2 weeks after he passed to check on me, which I greatly appreciated, until she said “I know what you’re going through, divorce is like a death and I felt what you’re feeling”. I couldn’t believe she said that! I’m friends with her and her ex husband and I know how devastating it was when he left but I also know that she can see or talk to him anytime she wants!! No, it’s not the same… not at all!!!
Hi Brenda, ugh. That’s the worst. Like, THE WORST 😖.
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