Handling Insensitive Remarks: Advice for Widows

Q. How can you respond to people who say dumb things to you after your husband has died? A woman I barely know called two days after I was widowed and said, “Don’t worry. You’re going to be just fine.” I felt so angry at her. How could she possibly know what I was going through and what my life ahead would be like? I just bit my tongue and said nothing, but it’s aggravated me ever since. Is there a better way to cope with such statements?


I think you handled your initial reaction well. But what’s important now is to let go of the lingering anger, which only saps your emotional energy and does nobody any good. It may help to know that many widows have their own lists of inappropriate remarks others have made. People usually say such things because they feel anxious, helpless, and uncomfortable. They don’t know what to say to you, so they blurt out something—anything.   


Immediately after her husband’s funeral, one anguished widow had to contend with a friend who chattered on and on to her about someone else’s death (a person the widow didn’t know). Incensed, the widow turned to the friend and said, “I know you mean well, but I don’t have the patience to listen to stories about strangers.” To her credit, the friend immediately apologized. Like many people, she just couldn’t tolerate sitting quietly with the bereaved. 


In other cases, mere acquaintances ask intrusive questions that cross boundaries of privacy. For example, a widow told me that two different neighbors in her condo complex asked her, “Are you going to move into a smaller place?” These were people she said hello and goodbye to in the elevator. Her first thought was, “It’s none of your business.” But she replied, “This is my home, my refuge. Why would I leave it?” 


Occasionally offensive remarks take the form of criticism. Some widows have been subtly (or not so subtly) chastised for dating “too soon” after a mate’s death—or for decisions made about the funeral. The complaints may range from the choice of flowers or the seating to the tone of a memorial service. Either the event wasn’t solemn enough or it needed light touches. Such comments can be the perfect opportunity to respond, “I’m sorry your feel that way.”


If you have a question for Florence, please email her at fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.


Florence Isaacs is a freelance journalist, author — and a widow herself. Her books include My Deepest Sympathies, When the Man You Love Is IllWhat Do You Say When and Just a Note to Say...The Perfect Words for Every Occasion.


Image via stock.xchng / atroszko

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Comment by Florence Isaacs on December 28, 2013 at 10:20am

Nicole: I'm so sorry you've had to go through this enormous loss, which is especially shocking because it came from out of the blue .  Unfortunately, the kinds of comments you describe are all too common in our culture.  Try to take special care of yourself at this very sad time.   

Comment by Nicole Amato on December 27, 2013 at 9:36am
I am 27 years old and just lost my soon-to-be spouse in a fatal hit-and-run. The most infuriating thing I'm being told by friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances alike has been "You're so young!" "You'll be fine" and "I bet Tim is already sending someone wonderful your way." It's completely dismissive and minimizing to what we had; as if losing him is something I can just easily get over. I know everyone means well and is trying to give me a sense of hope for the future but it's been horrible. This article was comforting - thank you.

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