Whether she is a neighbor, friend, family member or client, a new widow is going through an emotional upheaval that many of us don’t know how to react to, so we may do nothing at all. Here are 10 things that widows say they would find comforting.
- Send a card. Death may leave us without words, as anything we might say seems trivial or inadequate. A card is always appreciated and reminds the widow that she hasn’t been forgotten. If you don’t know what to write, a simple “I’m so sorry” is fine. Avoid saying “It’s God’s will” or “He’s in a better place.” You may believe that, but it’s not a comfort. It’s better to share a happy memory, such as “I’ll always remember when …” or “I loved how he …”
- It’s OK to talk about her spouse. Some people avoid mentioning the deceased. It may be awkward at first, but she wants to hear his name and remember something he loved to do or a funny memory. If this makes her cry, say you’re sorry and that you, too, miss him. Don’t let today’s tears keep you from talking about him the next time you see her.
- Keep important dates on your calendar. Birthdays and anniversaries will roll around, and a card, text or call lets her know you’re thinking about her. Sending a card on the anniversary of her husband’s death lets her know you remember and you care.
- Provide compassion but avoid pity. Share your deep sympathy the first time the two of you meet after her loss. Every subsequent conversation shouldn’t involve sad eyes and “Oh, you poor thing!” commentary, although there will be days when she and you may need to say how horrible, unfair, rotten and tragic this whole thing feels. Initiate normal conversations. Laughter, over time, really is the best medicine.
- Grief is different for everyone. If your friend declines invitations or offers of help, don’t pester her. Reach out again in a couple of weeks with new offers, or simply tell her you’d love to see her when she feels ready. Don’t forget about her because you’ve been rejected.
- Suggest ways to help. A new widow may refuse offers of help because she’s in denial, because of pride or because that’s her standard response. She may have no idea what she needs, so when you say, “What can I do to help?” she is at a loss. She may barely be able to get out of bed in the morning, much less organize tasks. Try saying something like “I’ll come over on Saturday and weed and water the garden, OK?” Putting it like that allows her to accept help more easily while having the option to decline.
- Get handy. People who have lost a spouse can struggle with the most basic functions. You can offer to help her out by cleaning the house, cooking a meal, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow or taking care of handyman tasks. Or, you could offer to arrange for a lawn service, handyman or local teenager to take care of maintenance jobs.
- Coordinate your help. It’s a relief to have food show up at the door, but not when it’s three tuna casseroles on the same day, and she hates fish. Use a web service such as SignUpGenius.com or CareCalendar.com to coordinate meals and services, as well as to list allergies or preferences.
- Invite her out. Ask her out to coffee, lunch, a movie or shopping. Becoming a widow can feel isolating and lonely. Some friends disappear because she’s not part of a couple anymore. Don’t let that be you. Continue to include her in activities.
- Take out her kids or grandkids. If the new widow has children or grandchildren at home, give her some alone time and provide a distraction for the children by taking them to your house or on an outing. Avoid making it sound like you’re putting yourself out to help her. Instead of “Let me take the kids off your hands for a day,” try phrasing it more like “We’re planning to go see a movie. Would your kids like to come?”
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