Things Not to Say to a Partner of a Widow or Widower

By Mauro Cateb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Mauro Cateb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Big reveal time: The Boffin was a widower at the time I met him. His late wife passed away of what looked like a pulmonary embolism when she was 29.  I came along as a young divorcée when the Boffin was still fairly fresh in his grief.  To get where we are today took a lot of love, hard work, perseverance, and cups of tea.  It also took the love and openness of the Boffin’s late wife’s family who accepted me as one of their own.  It hasn’t been easy, but it has all been worth it.

When I tell people this part about us, it is obvious how uncomfortable they become. The looking away.  The shifting in their seats.  Nobody knows what to say. Nobody wants to acknowledge that people can die, especially young and unexpectedly. And here we are as living proof that not only can people die young and unexpectedly, but people can fall in love and be happy again, only in a different way. The Boffin has never stopped loving his late wife, but that does not mean there was no room for me.  It really goes against the whole One True Love idea that is heavily promoted in society.

I completely understand people’s unease. Death is hard to face.  Naturally, you want to say something, but many times the most awkward, but well-meaning thing comes out.  It intends to express sympathy for the bereaved, but it really negates the partner.  Let me show you by giving examples that I (and others) have heard.

“That poor man/woman” – Yes, the widow/widower went through a period of bereavement, but he or she found happiness and love again.  Happiness and love with someone like me.  Poor thing.  Hope lives.  Focus on the positive, please.

“He or She’s waiting for him/her in Heaven.” – This can go a couple of ways.  If you don’t subscribe to a faith that believes in Heaven or subscribe to a faith at all, this statement is rather pointless.  And if you do, I am sure you are relishing going to Heaven to share your spouse with someone else.  It’s just like Sister Wives for eternity.  Yay.  “Just give him back when the snooker is done, Darlene.”

“At least you don’t have to deal with an ex-wife or ex-husband.” – No, you don’t, but you have to deal with memories and ghosts.  Because people have a tendency to put halos around the dead.  Flaws are overlooked.  Sins are forgiven.  The ugly parts of them are rationalized away.  The Boffin and his late wife’s family do not do this, so this is not my particular problem.  However, many partners live in the shadows of saints and have a hard time measuring up to perfection.  And if the problem does not come from the widow or the widower, it can come from dealing with the friends and family who thought the deceased walked on water.

“He or she would have approved of you.” – This person obviously knew the deceased so well that he or she can speak on the deceased’s behalf.  Well, that is presumptuous.  Anyway, if the deceased were around, the spouse would not be with anybody else.  And nobody susses out backup partners, in case of emergencies, and passes this information on to the besties.  “Hey, Mildred, in case I die, give my nod of approval to someone with a professional degree who is good to the kids and likes Marvel movies.”

“It is so sad that the kids will never know their ‘real’ mother/father.” – Here is the first thing I would ask.  Would you find this an acceptable statement to say to an adoptive mother/father?  No?  Then, why would this be OK to say to a woman/man who is taking on that same role?  Once again, focus on the positive.  Here is person who is becoming a parent to someone else’s children and taking on all the responsibilities and struggles that come with it because of love and commitment.  This is not for the faint of heart by any means.  The family needs support and encouragement, not hand wringing.

“It’s great that he or she isn’t lonely anymore.” or “It’s great that he has you for company.” – These ones are the most insulting of all.  You, the partner, are basically there to provide companionship to the widow or widower like a kitten.  The True Love died.  It is even worse if you are married the former widow or widower because the vows both of you took are treated as secondary.  My name is Karen, and I am not a consolation prize.  I am the Boffin’s wife in every sense of the word.

If there is a way I can summarize my post is that I want people to affirm life when I tell our story.  The point is not about loss.  It is about recovery.  Grief does not leave you the same, but it does not have to leave you miserable.  The Boffin was able to have his dream of a wife and a family again.  It may not have been the original plan, but it still happened.

Just saying how great it is that you managed to find each other and create a good life together is the best statement you can make.

20 thoughts on “Things Not to Say to a Partner of a Widow or Widower

  1. This is so much better than what you wrote earlier. At least I think you rewrote it because earlier I only saw three paragraphs.
    You have made excellent points. I often thought about the idea of someone waiting in Heaven and having to share and how terrible that would be. I just don’t think it will be an issue. Also, I definitely believe the ghosts of the dead are difficult to live with.
    I am glad you wrote this because it will help me remember to just say glad you’re happy. I think that would be what I’d say anyway, but now I am affirming that!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely. It’s hard to know what to say, especially when a couple in their early 40’s who have been married for 13 years confronts you with a tale like ours. Widowhood and widowerhood is supposed to happen to our grandparents. We are supposed to grow old. That’s the way it is supposed to work. That’s the way it is supposed to be. We are a walking curveball.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Now that is an opposite problem. You have respect the memory of the deceased too. The Sprog’s middle name is the same as the Boffin’s late wife’s middle name. We wanted to honor her because she was so important in how good of a person the Boffin is and how many lives she touched.

          I am so sorry people are so insecure and afraid of mortality that they can’t do the same for your sisters.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a great post……I’m sure I’m not the only one wishing there were just these sorts of statements out there to help us approach people and get across what we truly mean in our hearts and not what accidentally rolls off our tongues at stressful moments like this. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I know people don’t want to come across the way they do. Death appears in the conversation, and people panic, assuming that the widow or widower is still in the mourning phase when obviously he or she isn’t. It’s perfectly natural. As long as we remember that life has moved on and the new relationship is respected, things will be just fine.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Not being religious, I’ve always wondered what people think it’s going to be like in heaven when the remarried arrive and find all their various spouses. Or spice. Or whatever the collective noun for that is. It always struck me as awkward.

    People can say amazingly dumb things, can’t they? I’m glad you’re both grown up enough to get through it. Wishing you both much love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Much love back. Thank you so much.

      To be honest, I think people should put more thought into earthly things like memorial tattoos. I mean, you get a tattoo of a portrait your departed beloved right on your chest. Meanwhile, you get back into the dating game and find yourself about to engage in an amorous moment. Off comes the shirt, and you get hit with a big shot of awkwardness. Maybe you should have bought a brick at the local park.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. …and all the more so if the tattoo artist doesn’t happen to be great at portraits and leaves you with a tattoo of someone who looks like the skewed, and possibly demented, twin of the person you wanted to remember.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Karen, your article is wonderful. My dad died at 28 and my mom remarried a year and half later. Some family members were more gracious on accepting this than others. 40 years later, I can say that I had an amazing experience growing up in this blended family. My biological father lives on in me and my sister and now through our children. Blessings to you and your family

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love hearing the success stories. Thank you so much for sharing yours with me, and may your family and you continue to have joy and more love as you continue raising your children and experience the goodness of life.

      And thank you so much for the compliment.

      We were fortunate that we never encountered hostility toward our relationship. There were some people who needed time and space to adjust. Once again, that is perfectly understandable , and we gave them all the time they needed. I only wish that were the case in every blended family like this, but death makes life complicated.

      Like

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