Tag Archives: Widow

5 Things Not to Say to a New Widow

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” — C. S. Lewis, “A Grief Observed”

Death is a topic that can clear out a room of even the most kindhearted people. Just mention any of the following words — passing, mortality, funeral, burial, death — and people get nervous. Very few individuals are comfortable with holding an honest conversation about death, and even fewer know what to say to a new widow.

In 2007, I was just 33 when my husband, Roy, was diagnosed with adrenal cancer. About eight weeks later he died. Although I knew that his death from advanced cancer was inevitable, once he died, my entire being became depleted. I learned that death is like an amputation, and new life does not just grow back. Death does damage and at times for a widow, the grief is unspeakable.

Over three years ago, I decided I wanted to write a book for widows of all ages so that they would feel less alone. However, I didn’t want this to be a typical book about grief and loss. Instead, I wanted to learn first-hand from other widows from all different backgrounds about their experiences. I along with my co-author psychologist James Windell spent over three years talking with widows about their initial moments of grief and then their long-term emotions accompanied with loss.

Although each widow’s experience at her husband’s funeral or memorial service is unique, there were common things that I, along with other widows experienced. One of the common threads that all widows experienced were having to bear witness to uncomfortable comments. Sometimes, people do say the wrong things, and it stings.

5 Things Not to Say to A New Widow — These Are Not In A Particular Order

1. “Your husband is no longer in pain.” This is a case of stating the obvious. No matter what disease a widow’s husband may have endured, the fact of the matter is that a widow is well aware that he is not in pain. However, she is in unrelenting pain. A type of pain that pushes her to the outermost limits of her being and keeps her there with no immediate relief. She is in a very dark passage of hell. The emotional pain is that intense.

2. “You are not alone.” In so many ways a widow is alone. There can be a room full of family and close friends and yet not one person is experiencing exactly what she feeling at that moment. My late husband was my best friend and my main emotional support. We were a couple, and then I was alone. In my case, two minus one equaled one thousand. Those days and weeks following his funeral felt like an emotional ground zero. The loss was that deep. I felt that I was in a distant world far removed from all others. It is not a world that once a widow enters she can’t easily exit.

3. “I know what you are going through, Joan.” I’m making up this name, so you can go ahead and replace it with any widow’s name. Unless you have been widowed and even then each circumstance by which a woman is widowed is so unique, please refrain from this comment. If you have said this and the widow give you a blank stare, it is not because she agrees with you it is because she is using every ounce of restraint she has not to give you a piece of her mind. And for the common good of all concerned, please under no circumstance try to one up her with some loosely related story of a widow you once knew.

4. “He is in a better place.” I heard this over and over again. And I know other widows heard similar things. All religious beliefs set aside, the only place a widow knows is the one she is presently in. And it is without her husband. This place that a husband’s death has taken a widow is to one of vast isolation where the sounds of loneliness are inaudible.

5. “Give it time and you will feel better.” I’ve learned from widows that grief doesn’t have a finish line. The husband’s death will always be a part of her. I’ve found in talking with widows that many professionals and non-widows believe that grief is over in one year. However, I’ve found in doing research that quite the opposite is true. During the first year, widows are just trying to survive their first sets of holidays and cope with the daily stressors of widowhood. The second year, widows are deeply assessing all that is lost. They realize that it is so much more than their husband that they lost. They lost their emotional security, many friendships, perhaps even a home. These secondary losses, as many call them, are painful and compound the grief process.

There are few words to adequately describe the grief a new widows endures. If you must say something, be honest and offer, “I don’t know what to say. I am so very sorry. I am here for you.” And then for the widow’s good be there. Sit next to her. Hold her hand. Hug her. Bring her whatever she wants and don’t judge. Put your arms around her and listen to her. Don’t be afraid of her tears or silence. Sometimes the deepest laments are silent.

Kristin Meekhof is a Licensed Master’s Level Clinical Social Worker. She graduated from the M.S.W. program at the University of Michigan. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in psychology from Kalamazoo College. Her forthcoming book, “A Widow’s Guide To Healing: Gentle Support And Advice For The First Five Years” can be found here

Featured in Grand Rapids Magazine, August 2014

Helping Widows Cope-

Kristin Meekhof was 33 when her husband, Roy, died in 2007, eight weeks after his diagnosis of cancer.

She expected the grief and the loneliness. But the young widow wasn’t prepared for the huge medical bills that began arriving shortly after the funeral.

“Even though we had the Cadillac of insurance policies, I had to appeal items that were denied,” said Meekhof, a Grand Rapids native now living in Oakland County.

“At one point I was told I couldn’t do something without my husband’s signature. It was very overwhelming.”

The worst part was the constant reminder of Roy’s illness.

“The documents force you to relive each procedure.”

Realizing other widows face the same issues, Meekhof decided to write “Just Widowed,” a book offering women practical advice as well as hope and inspiration.

“Women can learn from each other. Loss of a spouse is not the end of their lives.”

The project started very grass roots, explained Meekhof, a licensed social worker who majored in psychology at Kalamazoo College and completed the clinical Master in Social Work program at University of Michigan.

She reached out through social media and wrote about her own experience in a blog for The Huffington Post.

“People, not just widows, connected with it and wrote to me, she said. They said they found it helpful.”

As Meekhof interviewed dozens of widows, she learned that finances often were the No.1 concern for women who lost a spouse. “A lot of widows say they stop opening their mail.”

She was surprised to discover many women say they lost support from friends and acquaintances. “A few weeks after the funeral, they were left hanging.”

Women also talked about deep loneliness and lingering depression, and it didn’t seem to matter how long they’d been married or the type of relationship,” she said.

But perhaps most disconcerting, she said, were the women who told Meekhof they felt relief.

“Some widows were embarrassed to admit it, but they would say the marriage had not been good and they didn’t know how to get out of it.”

Meekhof and co-author Jim Windell, a psychologist and friend of her late husband, also write about widows who’ve turned their loss into something inspiring. In June, the authors were in the final stages of proofing the manuscript before publication.

In the meantime, Meekhof is working to bring awareness of adrenal cancer research at the University of  Michigan. She’s also traveled to Kenya to visit an organization that helps widows and children.

Follow Kristin Meekhof on her journey at kristinmeekhof.com or on Facebook. -by Marty Primeau

Finding Healing in Solo Travel

When Passport Health asked me to write about my travel journeys, I immediately said, “Yes”. I didn’t have to think twice. I loved the idea of talking about why I started to do more solo traveling after my life changing event. While this next paragraph may seem a little dark, I encourage you to read on. I share my tips for taking solo adventure.

I was 33 in 2007 when my husband of four years was diagnosed with adrenal cancer. About eight weeks after his first doctor’s appointment he died. We didn’t have any children together, so I was truly alone. He died in November a few weeks before Thanksgiving, and his birthday was in early December. I was anticipating a tsunami of loss with these two dates followed by the December holidays. I shared this with a dear friend. My friend sustained a personal loss as well, and I felt she understood my situation. She suggested that I “do something different” this December. She shared how following their family’s own devastating loss, she and her husband took their children on a holiday.

I lived in Michigan, and the thought of being in a warmer climate for an extended weekend seemed very attractive. I booked a trip to Florida and made certain that my trip had all of the necessary creature comforts. I didn’t want to rent a car, so I took a shuttle from the airport straight to the hotel.


Prior to being married I had traveled alone, but this trip was different. It was less than four weeks after the funeral, and I was feeling raw and vulnerable. I booked the trip online and when asked who my emergency contact was it gave me pause. I tried to skip that part; however, the website wouldn’t allow me to continue. I quickly entered my uncle’s contact information. I packed the essentials in my carry- on, tucked a snapshot of my husband in between the pages of a book, printed my boarding pass, and headed to the airport.

The first solo restaurant meal was difficult. Looking at the menu, I immediately thought of my husband. I noticed that they offered a dish of mussels prepared exactly how my husband loved. I started to question myself if this was a smart decision because now I was looking at the lobster, and remembering the time we were together in Maine eating lobster. However, these intense moments passed. The second and third meals were easier.

Since that first Florida trip, I’ve traveled solo on several occasions. I’ve literally taken planes, trains and an automobile to reach my destination. On multiple occasions, I’ve traveled by myself to northern Michigan, New York City, Boston, and Chicago.

While you may not have experienced a death of a loved one, you may have experienced a different type of loss: a job, a friendship, a relationship, or a divorce. These types of losses are often unexpected, unwanted, and unplanned, which makes it even more painful. Personally, my journey of healing began with that extended weekend to Florida. However, you don’t have to travel a great distance to move closer to your own transformation. If you are planning solo travel for the first time, and you find the task daunting, here are some suggestions:

1. If you’ve never traveled alone, you may want to plan a day trip before scheduling a week long solo vacation. This will get your feet wet so to speak. For example, you will experience dining for one. Getting to know a place through your own lens is a different experience than sharing it with others, but don’t be intimidated.

2. When you are setting your itinerary, be sure to have a back-up plan. Earlier this year I was in Boston when an extreme blizzard hit. The airport, museums, major highways, and some restaurants were closed. This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself snowbound to my hotel, but I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to meet my family. I ordered a few movies, instead of having a pity party. Also, plans can quickly change even on a sunny day, and if you have a few alternatives in mind, it is easier to adapt to a sudden schedule shift.

3. Don’t expect a major transforming moment to occur because you may be setting yourself up for a large disappointment. While you may be saying “goodbye” to something or someone, don’t set your expectations too high. It is often in the smaller, unplanned moments that give birth to something new. On the Florida trip I began meditation, and it is something that I still practice.

I am grateful for this opportunity to share with you a part of my journey post loss. I will be traveling this fall to Kenya. A part of the trip will be to visit organizations that service widows. The second part of the trip, I will be on a safari. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you when I return.

You can also read this article on Passport Health

University of Michigan Cancer Center

Part 1

In 2007, my late husband was diagnosed at the University of Michigan Cancer Center with an ultra- rare form of cancer: adrenal. There is a one in a million chance that someone will be diagnosed with this form of cancer and unfortunately, my husband was diagnosed with advanced cancer.  Approximately eight weeks after his first visit to his primary care physician (not associated with the University of Michigan) he died. At the time I was 33, and we had no children together.

C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know that we are not alone”, and I couldn’t agree more. While reading this blog about my story will not resolve your problems, there is comfort in knowing that others have traveled the same path. As part of my research for my upcoming book, my co- author, psychologist James Windell and I interviewed dozens of widows. I also read many books about grief. What I have learned, to my surprise is that each widow’s journey through grief is unique.  Many widows speak about the intense loneliness (regardless if they live with children) and the cold sharp emotional pain. Death does damage. However, the pain will not always be as intense.

During the first year after my husband’s death, I found that the last thing I wanted to do was reach out to others. This was before text messaging and I wasn’t a part of Facebook; however, I had no desire to email or call someone.    Most of my friends were married with their own families.  Few people know what to say to a young widow. However, I found that when I did email or reach out that I was pleasantly surprised how good I felt. If for only brief moments, during a meal, I was distracted. There were a handful of awkward moments when a friend didn’t know what to say, but I went with the silence. I learned that most people are very kind and want to support you. However, they don’t know where to begin.

I know that you think others should call and stop by, but it is difficult. Time and again, those near and dear to me would say, “I just didn’t know what to do for you….. how to help you”.  Eventually, I figured out that I needed to reach out and it helped. Others began to open up when they saw that I didn’t want to be alone. They extended invitations for coffee, dinner, weekend trips.  Their kindness mattered to me.

Whether you are reading this as a widow or your loved one just experienced a loss, I encourage you to reach out.  Shortly after my husband died, a dear friend, who lived several miles away, each morning would email me either a heartfelt ‘hello’ or a beautiful quote. I saved all of those emails. This quote  from Frederick Buechner, still remains with me today, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid”.