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6 Know-It-All Statements New Widows Don’t Want to Hear (and Alternatives That Are Actually Helpful)

By Kathleen M. Rehl July 16, 2023 Family

Perhaps because my late husband was a pastor, some people thought they were helpful after Tom’s death to tell me, “God needed another angel in heaven.” (Wrong! I needed that angel beside me, not gone away.) Or they said, “I know exactly how you feel. My grandpa died this year.” (Definitely not the same.)

I wish they would have said, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through now. Would you like to tell me about it? I’m a good listener.”

Clichés aren’t helpful or comforting to a widow without her husband, her partner, the love of her life. Here are several more phrases to avoid when talking with a new widow, along with suggested alternatives.

“He’s in a Better Place Now”

People often try consolations such as, “He’s in a better place now.” This phrase makes assumptions – about life, death, and the widow’s viewpoint. It might not fit the widow’s spiritual beliefs. Don’t cause additional distress. Just avoid this sentiment.

Better Alternative

Instead, talk to the widow about her husband. Share memories of him, tell a story about a time you spent with him, or an important value he cherished – such as caring deeply for his family.

Keep his memory alive. Even though her husband is dead, she will continue to be in this new and changed relationship with him for a long time; maybe even forever.

“It’s All Part of God’s Plan”

Attributing death to God’s plan can be upsetting or offensive. First, you may make an incorrect assumption about a woman’s beliefs and religion. Additionally, a widow may even question her own faith after her spouse’s death.

Although your sentiment may be heartfelt, avoid these platitudes to sidestep an uncomfortable or hurtful situation for the widow.

Choose Your Words

Instead, say, “It’s hard to understand why death happens. None of us know the answers. But I want you to know I’m here to help make this difficult time easier for you if I can.”

“I Know What You’re Going Through”

Every person, marriage, and experience with death is unique. You cannot understand exactly what a widow is experiencing, and it isn’t productive or soothing to tell her you know her circumstances.

Try Acknowledgment

Instead, say, “It’s normal for you to feel confused, angry, or stressed.” By recognizing her feelings and reassuring your widowed friend or family member that her emotions are valid, expected, and normal, you may calm some part of her distress.

A widow’s flood of emotions can be overwhelming. Reassuring her that her state of mind is part of a larger grieving process can give her hope that she will pass beyond her current deep stage of grief.

“You’ll Find Someone New; You Can Remarry”

The pain of losing a spouse is immeasurable, and the prospect of sharing that intimacy with a new person can be upsetting, frightening, or heartbreaking. Talking about future relationships is not a good approach, and although some may think it could cheer up a grieving widow, it’s likely to have the opposite effect.

Encourage Friendships

Instead, focus on the important friendships the widow enjoys in her life. Her current network provides the solid, uncomplicated support she needs.

“You are fortunate to have many good friends. Their support will help you through this difficult time. Take them up on offers to help, get together for lunch or coffee, or go for a walk. They want to be there for you, like you would be for them.”

“You’ll Be Even Stronger in the Future After This Experience”

Early on, the widow is just getting by – hour to hour at first, gradually making it through an entire day. Whatever might be in the future is impossible for her to visualize soon after her husband’s death. The love, joy, and happiness are gone, and she doesn’t have a clue how she can be stronger in the future.

A New Kind of Relationship

Instead, talk about how death isn’t fair when it comes. “It’s really so difficult now because you loved your husband dearly during his lifetime. Yes, your relationship is certainly quite different now that he has passed, and I know your love for him will always last.”

“Call Me If You Need Anything”

Although your intention is heartfelt and sounds caring, don’t put the burden on the widow to reach out to you. She already has much on her mind and may not be thinking clearly at first.

This statement is also very open and nonspecific. She’s probably in an emotional fog and may not even know what help she needs from you. She also might feel uncomfortable asking for assistance. It could be hard for her to pick up the phone to call.

Take the Initiative

Instead, say, “I’ll contact you on Thursday so we can schedule time to catch up over a cup of coffee or a glass of iced tea soon.” Do the widow a favor by suggesting a date and time. When you make the call, be sensitive to her emotional state.

Make sure she’s comfortable with setting a time and place to talk. If you can, offer to help with activities that seem overwhelming. For example, you might offer to accompany a newly widowed friend on a trip to her estate attorney’s office if that’s helpful.

Just Say Something

Regardless of what you say to a widow, it’s most important to say something. Acknowledge that her spouse is dead. Don’t avoid the topic. Talk about something you admired about her husband, or how you enjoyed sharing conversations or an activity together.

People often side­step the topic of death altogether which can be hurtful to those who are grieving. Your words and expressions are critical to show that you care and are supportive in her grief. And use his name in your conversations. Widows don’t want the world to forget their late husband.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What statements have you heard conveyed to new widows? Which of them do you think have the opposite of the desired effect? Do you have any practical tips to share? Please do so in the comments below.

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And let’s not forget the widows who are grieving the passionate and loving days of long ago and their partner died as someone they no longer recognized. What could you possibly say to ease her pain when your assumption may not be accurate…but how could you know. She may be conflicted by a myriad of emotions from the suffering that lasted years, having kept that secret till his death. Your intentions are meant to be kind, but try to remember a widow’s loss is not always what appears on the surface, so tread carefully with hugs and genuine offers of your door being open if she should need to talk.

Kathleen M. Rehl

Yes, every widowed person’s story is different. Even though I’ve experienced widowhood, I never assume I understand all concerning another widow.


Hurrah! Excellent! So simple! And very helpful and kind. From a fellow widow.

Kathleen M. Rehl



Great article! I hope people who are not widows will read this so they can be more supportive of their widowed friends. I was very blessed that the majority of my friends got it. But Comparing the grief of losing a pet to the loss of a spouse was the worst. And I am a dog owner who has lost quite a few dogs! Thanks for writing this!

Kathleen M. Rehl

I’m glad you liked my article.


I heard the very same lines after I lost my 16 year old son. Well except the remarry part lol. But honestly at the moment those words were spoken, I know just how you feel… “I almost lost my son on a swing set!” Keyword: Almost!! Or the I know just how you feel, “my dog died!!” It was all I could do to hold back and not strangle these people!


I’m so sorry for the loss of your son. Thanks for sharing such honesty and insight.

People are so revealing when you’ve had an agonizing loss, as if grief wasn’t enough!

Kathleen M. Rehl

Most people say these things because they feel the need to make some comment, but they don’t know what is appropriate. I agree with the “strangle” part you suggested. That’s about how I felt sometimes, especially when certain folks kept repeating their unkind comments.

Britton Gildersleeve

Thank you. It’s been 14 months, and it’s still so very hard. These are excellent suggestions.


It’s been 3 years, and some days are harder than others. I have not even considered dating again but people are constantly asking me why. Just can’t get past the loss.


I am happy for those who find love again. However my husband of 41 years has been gone 13 months. He was 90 and I am 67 and have no desire to date or find someone else. I realize life is different for everyone , I don’t see that I could ever go out into the dating scene. When you have had the best, forget the rest.

Kathleen M. Rehl

Many widows are comfortable with their memories and a life on their own after the death of their spouse. That may be the right choice for you. Or, what’s right today may be different years from now. Trust your inner guidance on this.

Kathleen M. Rehl

Only you can decide if and when you might consider a new relationship. For some widows, this is the right choice. For others, it’s better to not go there. You know what’s best for yourself

Kathleen M. Rehl

I send you warm thoughts on your journey. I will never stop loving my late spouse. Instead, I learned to live with that loss in new ways. Blessings.

The Author

Kathleen M. Rehl, Ph.D., CFP®, wrote the award-winning book, Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows. She owned Rehl Financial Advisors for 18 years before an encore career empowering widows. Now “reFired,” Rehl writes legacy stories and assists nonprofits. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s, CNBC, and more. She’s adjunct faculty at The American College of Financial Services.

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