What to Say to a Grieving Widow or Widower

a daughter consoling her mother on a sofa

The best thing you can do is to listen

When supporting someone who is going through the grieving process, your presence is what really counts. Let them know you’re there because you want to help. If they seem to want to talk, sitting quietly with them and listening to whatever it is they have to say, is all that’s needed. Just by being there and listening, you give them the opportunity to come to terms with what has happened in their own time. Silence is OK. Making eye contact now and then and perhaps giving a smile to let them know you understand how they’re feeling is better than too much conciliatory conversation.

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 unlocking 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. Putting 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…
  • They would be really proud of you…
  • You’re doing so well…

Not wanted are well meaning platitudes that often 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. Tell them you’re available if there is anything you can do to make life easier. Ensure they know how best to contact you – whether it’s a phone call, text message or email. This will make communication quick and easy.

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 keep in mind.

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.

Occasionally mentioning the deceased, rather than avoiding their absence, could help the bereaved to acknowledge the subject of their partner’s death. This could bode well for his family and friends, especially if young children are involved. Anything that helps to substantiate the life of that person and how important they were to their family and friends is worthwhile.

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. It can be comforting to grieve with your friends and family, but sometimes it’s good to grieve by your self. This can help with coming to terms with the finality of death and the need to accept the outcome.

Summary

Including the bereaved 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. When I lost my husband, I remember feeling as though I were the only woman without a partner. I would look twice when I saw a couple out together, whether they were sharing the shopping load in a supermarket, or dressed up for a night out. I felt as though I were the only single woman in town, which of course I wasn’t!

Asking the bereaved how they feel offers an opportunity for them to off-load if they want to. 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.

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 them the opportunity to give in to grief when needed. Coming to terms with the idea of not being part of a couple any more will always be difficult and it will take time for them to accept the reality of this. An awareness of your concern for their wellbeing will help them to help themselves and to eventually find the road to recovery.

(This article contains tips and advice based upon a person’s individual experiences of grief and bereavement. These should be taken as a point of reference, rather than facts that apply to all.)

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