So, I hear you know and might possibly want to speak to a widow?! Excellent. They are great folks, even with the mind-numbingly awful heartache.
There is a rather lengthy list of questions and comments you’ll definitely want to steer clear of, but because this is the abridged version of the content, I will simply highlight a few doozies and give you suggestions on adequate replacements:
“How are you?”
This one can be easily misconstrued because it could come from a place of sincerity or simply habit. Be very, very aware of which place you are coming from when asking this. Instead of asking the generalized “How are you?” might I suggest a more specific “How was [insert activity the widow has recently done]?” Unless of course you truly do want to know how we are, which in that case ask away, but please also brace yourself for a shit-storm. There may be tears. Bring Puffs w/ Lotion.
“At least you have your memories.”
Never…under any circumstances…begin a sentence to a widow with “at least.” There is no “at least.” There is no bright side. Please stop trying to create one. Instead, try, “tell me one of your favorite memories with them.”
“I know how you feel.”
No. I’m quite sure you don’t unless you, too, have a dead spouse (if you do, will you call me? I’m trying to build an army of widows.) Please understand that this loss is in no way, shape, or form comparable to that of your deceased grandparent, second-cousin-twice-removed, dog, or crazy Uncle Joe. Also please, for the love of all things sacred, do not bring up how this is AT ALL similar to your nasty divorce. It is not. It takes two to divorce, and the other person is still alive. I will throat punch you. If you need a substitution to this phrase, try asking “Would you like a hug?” That’s all I got for you on that one.
“You’re young. You’ll be able to start over.”
There is everything wrong with this one. For starters, age has no correlation on severity of loss. Zero. Capiche? Second, starting over is not in our vocabulary. We will never start over. We will move forward with our deceased spouses AND our chapter 2s if/when we decide to date again. (If you need the link to the amazing Ted Talk that explains this, I am more than happy to send that your way.) Should you need a substitution for this one, maybe just say nothing and start opening a bottle of wine for the poor widow. After all, it’s really the least you can do to make up for even having the mere thought mentioned above.
“God only gives you what you can handle.”
*See above on throat punching.* If you fell down a long flight of concrete stairs, broke nearly every bone in your body, and I looked at you and said, “You know, God only gives you what you can handle,” something tells me you’d feel differently. Welcome to the Wonderful World of Widowhood. Need an alternate for this one? Try, “This isn’t fair, and I am so sad this happened.” or simply, “I love you, and I’m sorry.” You should always validate the crappiness of it all. It’s important!
At the end of the day, we understand that people are only ever trying to say the right thing. We acknowledge that. Patience doesn’t come easy these days, and we are already at the very end of our rope. Please understand that your concern is seen, heard, and appreciated, but we don’t have the emotional capacity to be politically correct. Our world has been turned upside-down and shattered, and the very last thing we want to hear is “I’m sure it will get easier with time.” Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Either way, the best thing you can ever do for your sweet, wonderful, courageous, hurting widow friend is to just listen. Chances are, we have a lot we want to say.
Show up. And listen.