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A Widow’s Decision: Better or Bitter?

By Marie Burns October 31, 2023 Family

Recently, a young widow shared something that stuck with me; a point she heard made by Rick Warren, a well-known pastor, author, and host of a Daily Hope Radio show. I don’t know if he was talking about grief specifically or moving forward in life in general. But he suggested that life can force you to decide how you choose to move forward, feeling better or feeling bitter about your circumstances.

Choosing Your Path

It sounds so easy to choose and to say it, but to live it every day can be another matter. Especially in situations where there has been a traumatic, life-changing event that has taken place, like losing a spouse. No matter what the relationship was like, you become a single person with a path forward that needs to be recreated. It’s not something we get “over,” but it’s something we get “through.”

Widowed Sisters

When we realize that 80% of married women lose a spouse, we begin to notice those around us and eventually realize that will most likely be us someday, if not already. I like this term I learned from The Modern Widow’s Club – they call each other “wisters” (widowed sisters). I love the connotation of that, sisters embracing and supporting each other. Even before we are widowed, we can nurture that sister-like relationship with girlfriends.

Better Relationships

Perhaps that is one way we can choose “better” as a way forward on our path in life, whether we are officially “wisters” or not. Better doesn’t mean better than before, it means better than you are feeling right now.

Relationships have a profound impact on our health and happiness. So, investing our time, care, and concern in each other is rewarding in so many ways now and in the future. I’ve seen many groups of older women out together for lunch, dinner, or some social event. I always smile and assume they are “wisters” but maybe they are wise women who value and devote time to friendship now.

Better Gratitude

Another way to choose “better” instead of bitter if we find ourselves alone, might be to reflect on our gratitude for the positive memories that were made (and think less often about any negative memories). One recent widow I visited with shared how her friend commented that the two of them were “princesses” and now realizing how grateful they were for that.

Both of their recent husbands had spoiled them like “princesses” by taking care of all yard, auto, and household fix-it chores. I am in that same boat and so appreciate that princess role! It’s such an adjustment when all of that falls on your shoulders as a single person.

Better Prepared

One additional way to choose a “better” way forward is to think about all you have been through on the financial side of this transition to singlehood. It was likely very stressful and time-consuming. So why not take care of making that next journey of where the assets go as seamless as possible for your family?

Why? Because you love your family and one of the best gifts you can give them is getting your financial house in order (you may want to consider using my Suddenly Single bundle of checklists) for clarity, organization, and current titles, beneficiaries, and estate planning documents.

A middle-aged couple I know had pleaded with their parents over the past two years to put estate planning documents in place and review asset titles/beneficiaries so that whatever they wanted to happen would be assured.

Too often in life, we procrastinate things, especially when they are related to unpleasant thoughts like incapacity and dying. The parents in this situation were no exception, so when one passed away unexpectedly earlier this year and within months the other parent needed Memory Care, the out-of-state adult children were left scrambling to work with an estate planning attorney to provide everything that wasn’t in place but now needed.

Love Them to the End

Even free resources that help you think through your wishes, summarize your home information, and break down your next steps on a calendar can be so helpful. You will feel better knowing that your family will do better during a stressful time because you prepared for that inevitable time in advance. Leave them feeling loved, all the way to the end. Won’t that feel “better” for everyone involved?

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How can we choose “better” after a loss in our lives? What helped you if you have already experienced widowhood? Let’s have a conversation!

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Carol Bain

Before I retired I thought it was time to update our will and put the house in trust for our adult children. My husband subsequently became ill with a brain tumour and passed away weeks after my retirement. Although my retirement is completely different to what we had planned having all that in place meant everything business wise was straightforward. Hopefully it’s in place for my family.

Marie Burns

So glad to hear you were able to make a stressful time less so by having your financial house in order in advance. It is usually a blessing to you as well as to your family in the future. Thank you for sharing!


I married a man 10 years my junior yet still he died before me.

Marie Burns

So many unexpected things happen in life, I am sorry that was true for you.


I married a man 3 years younger, yesterday was the one year anniversary of his passing, age 67 of Stage IV metastatic bladder cancer ..came out of nowhere,


I’m very sorry for your loss Linda. I hope you find peace in the months and years ahead.
I lost my husband 2 years ago and there has been nothing worse. He was older in number but not in pure joie de vivre.
I try to do what makes me happy and comfortable every day. I hope you do too.

Marie Burns

Losing a spouse is so difficult. I applaud your every day focus Lilianna, that in itself is difficult but often all we can do. And that is likely what the spouse we are missing would want as well.


It comes as no surprise that 80% of women will become widows since the majority of women marry older men. That is why estate planning is so critical to a comfortable retirement for the one left behind.

Marie Burns

Yes Joyce, the statistics are definitely telling women to be prepared!

The Author

Marie Burns, a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), advocates for women’s financial health. She is an author of a financial checklist book series, speaker, podcast host and partners with clients to offer friendly financial advice in her independent practice Visit her at or

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