What to Say to a Grieving Widow or Widower

a daughter consoling her mother on a sofa

The best thing you can do is listen

When supporting someone who is going through the grieving process, the best thing you can do is listen. By simply listening to whatever it is they have to say, without passing judgement or steering the conversation in a particular direction, you give them the opportunity to come to terms with what has happened in their own time.

Allowing them the space they need to express how they’re feeling can act as an important part of the healing process, helping to soothe their pain and unlock any further emotional stress.

How to respond to a widow or widower

Knowing how to respond to a widow or widower will depend upon how well you know that person. Trying to put yourself in their shoes is a good place to start. What would you like to hear as a response? Would you want it to be practical, emotive or something else?

No matter how well a widow or widower thinks they are coping, it will always help to hear any of the following:

  • I’m so sorry…
  • I can only imagine how hard this must be for you…
  • I remember when (try to recall a story about their partner –something funny or heroic, for example)
  • I miss him/her, too…
  • They would be really proud of you…
  • You’re doing so well…

Not wanted are the platitudes from well-meaning friends and family that can accompany loss. There is no need to remind the bereaved ‘they were lucky to have had so many good years with their partner….’, and so on. What are most appreciated are offers of help, and encouragement to grieve for as long as they need. Tell them you’re readily available, should there be anything you can do. Ensure they have your phone number; this will show them you genuinely want to help when and if they need it.

Also, being consistent in your support will reassure the widow or widower that you can be relied upon. Suggesting the next time, you will call or pay a visit gives them a ‘loose’ structure to build upon.

How to support a grieving widow or widower

Sometimes just being with someone, but not necessarily feeling you have to talk can be comforting for them. Should they want to relate an experience shared with their partner; this is a good sign. If there is any event that you shared with the deceased, such as an evening out or other social interaction, then perhaps this is a good time to remember it together.

Including them in invitations to social events, whilst not putting any pressure on them to actually attend, can act as a useful measure of how they’re feeling and whether they’re ready to move on and reconnect.

Sometimes it’s good to grieve alone

Spending some time alone, can allow the widow or widower to confront any thoughts that could be hard to acknowledge whilst there are other people around. It can be comforting to grieve with your friends and family, but sometimes it’s good to grieve alone. This can help with coming to terms with the finality of death and the need to accept the outcome.


Only respond with something you would want to hear if it were you in this situation. Listening is the key. Being mindful of how someone is progressing following bereavement will ensure they don’t fall by the wayside.

Asking them how they feel offers an opportunity for them to unload if they want to. Sometimes a hug is all that’s needed as reassurance that you truly understand their sadness.

For the bereaved, knowing there are people looking out for them allows the opportunity for giving-in to grief when needed. An awareness of your concern for their well-being will help them to help themselves and eventually be on the road to recovery.

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