What to say to someone when their spouse passes away

It’s hard to fathom a more painful feeling than your partner or spouse passing away. Anger, depression, loneliness and a feeling of ‘why did it have to happen now?’ can turn even the happiest person into a shell of themselves. It’s at these times that they need the support of friends and family.

Remember, the effects of grief can look like depression. This means that some people might even go on to develop depression following a significant loss. Health Direct is an Australian Government resource that provides helpful resources and links to services that might help someone grieving to identify depression, and ways to deal with it.

Your friend or relative may be experiencing shock, guilt, blame, denial or even numbness. Because of this, people who have recently experienced the loss of a spouse may be extra sensitive, so understanding how to approach them is paramount to being a supportive friend.

If you know someone who has recently lost their spouse or partner, there are a number of ways you can support them. Here, we explore some helpful things to say – and what to avoid – as well as how you can provide ongoing support by just being there for them.

What to say: words of condolences

“Please know that I’m here for you.”

Sometimes all anyone wants to know is that there are still people who care about them and want to know they are okay. When you are in a loving relationship for many years, the shock of losing your partner can shatter your reality. Having friends who are always there to pick up the phone, help out around the house or spend time chatting about the good times are priceless – it’s the smallest gestures that can make a real difference.

“My favourite memory of your partner/spouse is…”

Sharing happy memories of someone who passed away can be a good way to keep their spirit alive. While it might be hard for your friend to talk about them, just speaking about your favourite moments can provide a bright spark, with memories of happy times you all shared together.

“I’m always just a phone call away.”

Your friend or family member may prefer retreating into solitude to deal with their feelings after their partner passes away. Everyone deals with grief in their own way. You don’t always have to be physically with them to support them. Just tell them that they can call you any time and you’ll answer – a lot of the time, that’s all they want. Or, that you’re also happy to give them the space they need if they simply can’t face anyone right now.

“I’m here to help in any way I can.”

This could mean many different things and will depend on the relationship you have with your friend or family member. It may be something as simple as coming over to mow their lawn or take out the bins. Or it could be something more substantial, such as offering to help out with the cost of the funeral or provide something for it, such as food, flowers, music or a eulogy.

What not to say: phrases to avoid

“At least they lived a long life.”

Even if this is true, it’s not something that someone grieving will want to hear. When you have a partner that you truly love, you don’t want it to end. Even if they had a long life, they will still wish there were more days they could have spent together.

“They did what they came here to do and now it’s their time to go.”

This might seem like a powerful or spiritual statement, but it doesn’t provide any closure to the person who lost their spouse. Instead, it can diminish the importance of the time they spent while they were alive. If anything, it could be good to talk about some of the special moments you remember about their loved one.

“I’m worried about you, please call me asap.”

Although well intentioned, often the first few weeks surrounding a death can be very draining for a person. Your loved one may not feel like communicating, going out, texting back or even opening the door to receive groceries or homemade food. Sending a simple message that says, “I am thinking about you; no need to reply” can often be a better way to show that you’re there.

Other ways to show support

Sometimes all a person needs is a hug. It may not seem like much, but that physical connection from someone they love and care about can be a beacon of light on a dark and lonely day. Just make sure you don’t force it. A hug can be a standing offer, and if they aren’t feeling up to it on any certain day, let them know you’re always around.

There’s also much to be said for providing long-term support. Oftentimes we feel the need to support someone we care about in the immediate aftermath, but where does it end? Good friends stick around for the long haul, and sometimes it can be something as simple as a phone call or a request to go for a walk together that makes the most difference.

Use every life lesson as a learning opportunity

When we are faced with devastating news, it can make us re-evaluate where we are in life. Someone you know passing away might remind you about some of the important things in life, such as maintaining close relationships with your community, or having your affairs in order, and making your own wishes known by having a will.

Death is a certainty in life, and when someone you care about loses their partner or spouse, it can make us reassess our own mortality and try to get certain things in order. Whether that’s updating your life insurance policy or taking out funeral insurance, these decisions can help put your mind at ease.