Friday, December 1, 2017

What Grieving Friends Wish You Would Say. 10 Things To Say To A Friend Who Has Lost A Spouse

by Monica Bobbitt

It can be hard to support a friend who has experienced the death of their spouse. You want to help your grieving friend. But you are unsure of what to say. What can you do to help?

When my husband was killed in a military training exercise, our friends and military community rallied around me to provide support. For many, it was their first experience losing a close friend. They had no idea what they were doing, and honestly neither did I.

A few days after my husband’s funeral, an acquaintance called to check on me. My mouth dropped as I heard her say,

“I know what you are going through. My dog died last month. I’m still heartbroken.”

I was stunned. How could she be so insensitive? How could she know what I was feeling? She’d never buried her husband. Losing your dog is not the same as losing your husband.

Another friend informed me that I would be miserable and lonely for the rest of my life.

“You’re going to be so miserable. You’ll never ever be as happy again as you were when Dan was alive.”

I knew my friends didn’t mean to be insensitive (really). They were actually trying to be supportive. They just had no idea what to say.

It’s a problem many of us struggle with when someone we know loses a spouse (or anyone else).

When someone is grieving, words can seem so inadequate. We often struggle to find the right words. And sometimes we end up saying completely the wrong ones.

Some people are so scared they will say or do the wrong thing they purposefully avoid the bereaved person, thinking that’s better than saying the wrong thing. It’s actually not better; it’s one of the worst things you can do. Avoidance is hurtful and confusing to someone who is already dealing with so much.

The truth is there is nothing you can say that will take away your friend’s pain. There are no magic words you can say that will fix it, you can’t fix the unfixable.

But there are some things you can say (or do) to provide much-needed comfort to a bereaved friend during a terribly difficult time.

1. I don't know how you feel.
No one can ever truly understand what another person is feeling. Even if we have suffered a similar loss, our pain and grief are as unique to each of us as our fingerprint is. No two people will grieve and mourn in the same way.

Don’t compare your friend’s loss to a loss you have experienced, especially to the loss of a pet. Losing a pet is definitely not the same as losing your husband.

2. I'm sorry for your loss.
They may not seem like enough, but these simple words convey so much meaning and show you truly care.

3. I'm not sure what to say. 
Be honest with your friend and tell them you are at a loss for words, trust me, they will understand.

Before my husband died, I’m not sure I would have known what to say to a friend who’d lost a spouse either. Though, I’d like to hope I wouldn’t have compared it to losing my dog. 

4. I'm here for you.
Everyone needs to know they are not alone. Knowing there is someone you can reach out to when you need them, whether its 2 p.m. or 2 a.m., is vital and so reassuring.
I had friends I knew I could message in the middle of the night when I had nightmares or couldn’t sleep. And ones I knew would drop everything in an instant to be there for me. 

5. Say nothing.
This is not the same as avoiding your friend.

Sometimes you do say it best when you say nothing at all. There will be times your friend doesn’t need you to say anything.

They just need you to sit with them in silence. Hold their hand, pass them a tissue, or make them a coffee. Let them cry.

Listen. Let them talk about their sorrows, no matter how personal or messy it gets.

Listening, without judgment, is one of the most important things you can do for a grieving friend.

6. I'm thinking of you.
Grief lasts long after everyone has gone home and all the funeral flowers have wilted. Knowing someone has taken the time out of their day to think of you is very comforting, especially if it’s been several months (or even years) since your loss.

A message that only takes a few seconds to send can make all the difference in the world to someone who is feeling lost and alone.

It’s been three and a half years since my husband was killed, and I still have people reach out to me on a regular basis.

“I just wanted to let you know I’m thinking of you today.”

Those messages truly warm my heart.  It’s so nice to know people still care.

7. Ask them what they'd like to talk about.
They might want to discuss their loss or their circumstances. Or they might just want to talk about something ordinary, like the weather.

For weeks after my husband died, it seemed like all anyone wanted to talk to me about was his death and my grief. It was so heavy to think about all the time.

I had one friend who didn’t talk to me about my loss at all. Instead, he would talk to me about the weather or wind turbines or bats (all conversations we actually had) and for those brief few minutes each day, I didn't have to think about my grief or my broken heart or how awful my life was going to be.

8. I'm coming to take the garbage out.
Even the simplest of tasks can be overwhelming to someone who is grieving. Avoid the tendency to ask the bereaved what they need you to do because, in all honesty, they likely don’t even know what they need you to do.

Take out the garbage, mow the lawn, or shovel the driveway. Make a list of household chores that need to be done and divide them between those who have offered to help.

After my husband died, so many people stepped up to help. One sorted all of his military kit; others took care of my lawn, a group of them pitched in to hire a house-cleaning service.

There was no way I could have managed all of it on my own, especially in those early weeks. They eased some of the load on my already overburdened shoulders.

9. Talk about their loved one.
When someone dies, we often worry if we talk about them it will make the griever more upset. In fact, the opposite is true. When someone loses a loved one, they want to talk about them. And they want to hear their name.

Say their name; share your own stories and memories of them. It’s comforting to know how much you loved them and will miss them too.

After Dan died, I heard so many wonderful (and funny) stories about him from his friends and soldiers. They made me feel closer to him and made me laugh. Not surprisingly, many of them involved Dan spilling coffee on someone or something. He really could be such a klutz sometimes. 

10. Would you like a hug?
Not everyone is touchy-feely, but physical contact can be meaningful and comforting to someone who is grieving. A hug won’t take away their pain, but it will make them feel loved and a little more secure.

I was always a hugger, but I find I’m even more so now. I hug a little tighter, and a little longer. Just in case. Because you never know what tomorrow is going to bring.

Supporting someone who is grieving can be challenging and difficult. It is gut-wrenching watching someone you love suffer. You aren’t going to have all of the answers, and you won’t get everything right. And that’s okay.

The most important thing you can do is show up. Be there for them in the days and weeks (and months and years) after their loss.

Show up. Say or do something. Listen when they need you to.

Be there. Be a friend who cares.

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” ~Henri Nouwen

Chat soon,

Click here to learn  What Grieving Friends Wish You Wouldn't Say
To learn more about grief, resiliency, and life after loss, follow Monica Bobbitt on Facebook: 



  1. #8 The padre actually took out the garbage for me when Cheryl died, just remembered that... not looking forward to Christmas :(
    Take care Rick

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