Doing and Saying Just the Right Things
Helping a Widow or Widower Cope with the Death of a Spouse
Because couples function as a team, losing a spouse presents another set of difficulties for the bereaved person. Along with handling their grief, a surviving spouse may need financial advice or help with domestic issues. In fact, their grief often causes the spouse to die within a year after losing the partner.
Offer to help and remember that healing requires that he/she gradually fill their time with new people and activities. Here are some things you can do to offer support to someone who has lost their spouse.
When you learn that a person has lost their spouse…
- Don’t push for details. Let the bereaved talk about their loved one. Be a good listener.
- Refer to the deceased by name.
- Encourage the spouse to plan a wake, funeral and burial (even if cremated), if you are in an appropriate position to do so.
- Send flowers with a note (see suggestions for notes below) or offer a donation to an appropriate organization.
- Focus on the deceased’s life.
- Ask to help make arrangements or do chores.
During the services…
- Include siblings of all ages in the activities. Let them ask questions. Answer honestly.
- Don’t feel guilty about saying or doing something that causes a loved one to cry or crying yourself. Crying is healthy.
After the services…
- Send cards frequently — even six months after the death.
- Remember birthdays and anniversaries of the death.
- Keep in touch with the spouse. Don’t assume you know what they would like to do. Ask and offer assistance.
- Losing a mate is one of the biggest losses one can experience. Encourage the bereaved to seek appropriate therapy. The National Widow to Widow Support Network can offer valuable referrals for a variety of needs.
- Offer to help with practical issues such babysitting, housekeeping or errands.
- Praise the bereaved for small accomplishments.
- Don’t take control of the situation unless it’s requested. The spouse needs control to help work through grief.
- Don’t expect things to be "back to normal" in a certain timeframe.
- Don’t bring up other people’s losses. Let the spouse focus on his/her loss.
- Don’t pressure the spouse to take off their wedding band or clean out the deceased’s belongings. They need to do this in their own time.
What to say…
Use your own words to convey messages like these:
"It’s too bad he/she died. I will always remember him/her."
"It’s so tragic. What you’re going through must be very difficult."
"I’m saddened by your loss. We care and love you deeply."
"You have to be strong now for your children (or business)."
"Think about how lucky you are that you have children."
"Do you think you’ll get married again?"
"Are you going to move?"
"God won’t give you more than you can handle."
"You look great. I’m sure you’ll find someone new."
See related topics: