Etiquette for Widows and Widowers

Young grieving women at a funeral
Widows and widowers are often confused about proper etiquette for their status. Rich Legg/E+/Getty Images

Immediately after the death of a spouse, there are so many issues a person has to deal with it's difficult to consider everyday life without the person. However, after the funeral is over and things start to settle down, there are some things you'll need to consider and decisions you'll have to make.

There are quite a few questions about various etiquette rules related to being widowed. When is it acceptable to start dating?

How long should I wait to remarry? Should I continue wearing my wedding ring? Am I now "Ms.," or should people still address me as "Mrs."? These are just some of the questions I've been asked.

Although there are social standards, remember that you have to do what you're comfortable with. Many of your decisions will be based on your age, how long you were married before your spouse passed, and your religious practices.

When is it okay to start dating again?

Grief counselors generally recommend a period of mourning, but the amount of time is ultimately up to you. Although some say you'll need a year that may be different if your spouse was sick for a long time before his death. Your decision may also be based on whether or not you had a good marriage with your late spouse.

The first thing you need to think about is whether or not you're ready to get back into a relationship with another person.

If you go out with someone, will you constantly compare the person you're with to your late spouse? If so, perhaps you should wait a bit longer.

Is it okay to discuss my late husband with my date?

You may discuss your marriage with the person you are dating, as long as you keep it very brief. Never spend the entire evening talking about your late spouse.

And don't expect your date to become your therapist or merely a shoulder to cry on. If you can't help it, you probably need to take a little more time before you date. You don't want him to feel as though he's competing with a ghost.

Try to have fun on your date. The person who thought enough of you to want to spend time with you deserves your attention. Try to keep a pleasant conversation going without constantly referring back to your late spouse. Consider learning and practicing some conversation starters for those times when conversation lags.

Should I continue wearing my wedding ring after my spouse dies?

Again, this is a matter of preference. Some people are comfortable removing their rings immediately after their spouses die and others never want to take them off. If you feel lost without your wedding ring, then by all means wear it. Another option is to wear it on a chain around your neck.

There may be other considerations regarding your ring. If your wedding ring is a family heirloom, you may want to keep it in a safe place for your heirs. Or you might want to go ahead and give it to the person when the timing is right. For example, if you have a son who is getting married, you might want to offer it for his bride.

If it bothers you to have a naked ring finger, you can purchase a simple band to wear until you are ready to go without a ring.

Should people call me Ms., or am I still Mrs.?

Most people who have always called you "Mrs." will probably continue to do so. If they ask, the choice is up to you. Although traditionally a widowed woman is "Mrs. (her first name followed by her married last name)," you may choose to be called whatever you want. If someone is unsure, it's always safe to use "Ms."

When people send letters or invitations, keep in mind that they might not know how to address you. If you have a preference, please let them know. Otherwise, they'll have to guess, and you may see any number of attempts from them to do what they think is correct.

How long should I wait to remarry?

Some religions require a year of mourning before a person remarries after the death of a spouse.

If that doesn't apply, the decision is completely up to you and whatever you're comfortable with. Your friends and family members may balk if you decide to remarry within a couple of months of becoming widowed, but only you know what you're emotionally ready for. Just make sure you're not merely trying to fill a void and that this is the person you want to spend the rest of your life with.