Touched by loss. Empowered through community.

What Not to Say

Monday, December 31, 2012
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He’s in a better place. These were the words I most dreaded hearing after my husband died. I was reminded of the giant bug I had up my butt about this simple phrase over the holidays. Just as I opened the closet that needed cleaning – his closet, now mine – I came upon a garbage bag full of sympathy cards received some four years ago. I paused and reread the kind words from my elementary school principal, who noted what a strong child I’d been, which at the time gave me the tiniest bit of confidence that I would get through this. There was what I called an angel card, on which a former colleague recounted the happy courtship she’d witnessed years earlier that had culminated in my marriage. That one I’ll save forever. There are so many cards. Most had been originally opened by my sister, aka the "card sanitizer", who took it upon herself to make sure none said … he’s in a better place. It’s nothing short of a miracle that no one has ever uttered those words to me. Not a once.

Ninety-nine percent of what people said and wrote was well-intentioned and kind. Many people didn’t know what to say. I wouldn’t have known either. Even now, I struggle to come up with just the right words to bring comfort to someone who is grieving. Each person’s grief is his or her own, and I don’t pretend to fully understand what someone else may be going through.

That being said, most of us young widows and widowers have been on the receiving end of strange comments and unsolicited advice that doesn’t make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. In the spirit of having a little fun on the blog, I share with you some of my personal favorites:

  • You really need to pull yourself together. Seriously? It’s my husband’s funeral. Allow me to cry in peace. My mascara is waterproof.
  • At least he didn’t suffer. Agreed. But when you say it like that, our loss seems somehow diminished.
  • You’re young; you’ll meet someone else. Great. So this can happen to me all over again?
  • Are you selling the house? Are you gonna buy it?
  • You should move back in with your parents. This may work for some people, but I’m not that young and I’d rather live in a cardboard box. Frankly, I don’t think they’d have me.
  • I know just how you feel. My husband had heart surgery. Yeah, and your husband is sitting right there, listening to you say this to me.
  • At least you’re not divorced. You don’t have an ex out there tormenting you. You’re right. I don’t. But my stepchildren don’t have a father, either.

Don’t think I’m not grateful that this list isn’t longer. I was lucky. Nobody ever said the dreaded H-I-A-B-P. And I’m able to laugh at this stuff now. I hope you are too. You survived the holidays and deserve a chuckle. Let’s end 2012 with a little well-deserved humor, and a new Top 10 List of What Not to Say. Feel free to chime in with your own stories by commenting below, or on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear from you.


While I know people are well intention-ed, my favorite comment occurred at a business meeting 2 months after Jim died . . "I know you lost the love the of your life, but he will not be the only love of your life. You have to be open to finding it." A year and half later and it still sticks with me.

Two months after my husband died and just days after my mother had also died, I went to the office at the cemetery to choose a marker for my husband. The man who was helping me said, "So, is everything back to normal now?" REALLY????!!!! You'd think he would have had some kind of training in what not to say.

When talking to someone about how I would manage to raise a newborn and a toddler on my own, they said to me, "Well, you know, a lot of people's husbands travel a lot." As if a traveling husband was the same as a dead one.

I remember that so many people said things like, "I'll always be here for you," and "We're in this together." No, we are not. I am in this alone. Nothing makes that more obvious that a snow storm that I'm left to shovel, or a sick kid that I'm left to care for. At the time, I felt comfort in those words - 3 1/2 years later, it infuriates me that I didn't know better.

The What Not to Say list is getting bigger and better! Thanks for chiming in with your own contributions. Keep 'em coming, readers!

After my husbands sudden death his brother said " he felt like you were slipping away"..."We you guys having problems?" I wondered if he thought that my husband wanted to die because of me... Or wondered if maybe the marriage was bad anyway... not the time to share concern... and haunts me five years later

I am not a widow, I'm just reading these so I don't make a mistake myself when talking to a friend...but I did ACCIDENTLY tell an elderly gentleman who had just lost his wife, "don't worry, you will see her soon"...I meant to say "again", meaning in heaven, but it just came out horribly wrong....

A day after my husbands death, my good girlfriend (obviously in shock) looked at me and said, "you are young and hot! Don't worry, you'll have someone again, soon enough! I mean you're so young!"

All the people who said he's with his Mom now got my 6 year old very upset. She wanted to know why her Daddy would rather be with his Mom than her.

Just remember, what people say, says more about them than it does about you. This is true in every situation in life. So when someone says something that seems off, just picture them with a dunce cap on. They can't help it.

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