'Ex' Does NOT Mark The Spot: Respecting The Widowed And Their Late Spouses

03/31/2014 07:05 am ET | Updated May 31, 2014

Today's very important question is:

At exactly what point in time did a late spouse become an "EX"?

Whether in written form or by people talking in general, I have both seen and heard this error made many times over the years. However, when reference to a late spouse as an "ex" is continually being made on popular television shows, on network news, by journalists conducting interviews and in major national magazines, it is clearly time to voice protest and offer education.

As defined by virtually every dictionary in every language, "ex" means former. The death of a spouse or partner does not nullify a marriage or relationship -- that sort of nullification involves a divorce or a breakup. I assure you that when it comes to widowhood, no one left the marriage willingly (and yes, as previously discussed in last week's article, this includes situations involving suicide). No one filed any divorce papers or had the uncomfortable "breakup speech". Spouses were ripped apart by death, families have been fractured by loss, and survivors subsequently catapulted into new lives not of their choosing. All are doing the best that they can with the unfortunate set of circumstances that have been handed to them.

Given this tragic set of circumstances and already coping with overwhelming grief, can you then imagine how it feels when reference is made to a late spouses as an "ex-wife" or an "ex-husband" or an "ex-fiance(e)"? In using that incorrect reference, the widowed are not only insulted, marriages and relationships are also dishonored; as are the lives that the surviving spouse shared with their late beloved and the healing journey that the surviving widowed and their families have been left to navigate.

One widow shares her story of filling out a form at her doctor's office. As is customary, the form gave choices for marital status disclosure. However, the only choices included on the form were "single", "married" and "divorced". Since our widowed friend fit into none of the stated categories, she quite appropriately wrote in the word "widowed" and was thereafter accused of trying to "call attention" to herself. Please be reminded that this accusation came from a health care provider.

Trust me when I say that we who are or have been widowed can think of many other and far more desirable ways to get attention. Seriously.

The correct terminology for a deceased spouse is "late". It is by no means the best term in the world as I don't remember my own late husband being "late" for anything, but it is certainly much better than "ex". "Ex" refers to someone with whom one is no longer involved and that someone somewhere made a choice in ending a relationship. "Single" refers to someone who has never married. Neither term is now, nor will ever be correct when referring to a late spouse or to a widowed person, respectively. I personally would not stand by quietly and listen to anyone diminish the life that I had with my late husband (including his over two-year journey to the grave) by referring to him as an "ex-husband" and I would encourage any other widowed person to assert themselves in the same manner.

To all doctors, hospitals, health care providers, government entities and anyone else in the position of soliciting personal information in written form, here is a terrific idea: add a box that says "widowed"; it's just not that difficult. Here is an additional newsflash: The widowed are truly not looking for any gratuitous attention by stating a truthful marital status that they would happily relinquish in order to be able to check the "married" box on your form. Contrary to seeking unwarranted attention, the widowed are instead looking for understanding, compassion, and perhaps even a little help and direction.

To those who are in the writing profession on any level and in all areas of the media, your audiences deserve better than hearing "ex" bandied about in the most incorrect way imaginable. Finally, if you are either related to or know someone who is widowed, please do not ever refer to their late spouse as an "ex". The widowed have suffered enough daggers to the heart. They don't need any more from people who are supposed to care.

I realize and readily acknowledge that much of this may sound trivial or insignificant -- usually to those who have not experienced widowhood firsthand. However, our concern will always remain with and center around the millions in the widowed community who are constantly subjected to incredible insensitivity on a daily basis. Please help minimize that insensitivity by doing the kindness of referring to a late spouse as just that..."late".

They are not "ex".

They are not "former".

In this case and quite plainly...

"Ex" does not mark a sadly vacant spot.

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Carole's latest book, "Happily Even After..." is the winner of the prestigious Books for a Better Life Award. For more information about Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, please visit

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