How to support a recently widowed friend – 6 ways Most Liked

Today’s Featured Comment

When Robin Donovan wrote about feeling helpless at the bedside of a dying friend, VN member aserethtor shared this advice:

From aserethtor

I was widowed at age 52. My husband was diagnosed with colon cancer and was gone in less than four months. This was NOT part of our plan. So here are some suggestions for dealing with your friend if this happens to her.

These are based on some bereavement training, study, and personal experience.

  1. Listen. Don’t talk. Everyone has a story and they need to tell it. The more they tell it, the easier it gets. Someone told me that the best gift he had been given was when a friend came over and just sat for two hours, listening.
  2. Support changes in her. The weekend after my husband died, I had my hair cut. He didn’t like it short. After a friend’s wife died, he grew a beard. People asked him why. I said, “I understand.” He needed that reassurance. Another friend shaved his off. If you notice that she has changed her appearance in some way, compliment, but don’t ask why. It’s a sign that she’s moving forward.
  3. Don’t offer advice. Don’t push. Don’t suggest she move/not move, take a trip/stay home, etc. This might make her doubt her own feelings. If she asks for advice, talk it out. Don’t just say, “You should do this.” Instead say, “What are your feelings right now?” Help her think out loud, offer options. She’s used to having someone to bounce things off of, and he’s gone. My advice to anyone who has lost a partner is to do what feels right for them.
  4. Don’t EVER tell her you understand how she feels! Even if you are also a widow, you do NOT understand what she is going through. My worst experience was having a young woman appraiser come to my house. When I told her I was a widow (it was just a few months), she told me she understood because her boyfriend had dumped her recently. Someone else called me one night and said she understood because she had lost her father, then spent an hour telling me all about it.
  5. Invite her out to someplace new. Old places are full of memories. She needs to start a new life with new memories. “Hey, there’s a new Thai restaurant that just opened that I’d love to try.” “I’ve never really mastered this digital camera I got. There’s a program at the library on it. Want to go?” Help her start her new life.
  6. Do things that aren’t specifically couple-oriented. I’ve done the fundraiser banquet where I was the only “single” at a round table of couples. My “date,” a female coworker, had car trouble and didn’t come. It’s awkward. Spend more one-on-one time with her.

I hope that her journey goes smoothly. For me, this was a wonderful opportunity to discover who I am, and I now have a great life. It’s very different than my old one. That was my choice.

[These tips were originally posted in this conversation. ~ Eds.]

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Posted in family & relationships, VN Featured Comment.

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6 Responses

  1. Haralee Haralee says

    Good tips! I would add not to give your story about some one you know  in a similar situation.

    3 like

  2. Generic Image kygal says

    These are such good tips and wish this could be shouted from the rooftops!  If you haven’t walked in these shoes, you have no idea.  I’ve gone for so long not talking about my husband that I find it hard to do sometimes now…..people just don’t want to take a chance of making you “feel bad.”
    This is well written and really touches on the important things…..:-)

    1 like

  3. Generic Image tiya says

    I have never married but I do have a friend who was unexpectedly widowed when her husband died after a cancer diagnosis that took his life in less than 6 weeks – and they had just sold their suburban home and moved into the city. That was two years ago. She has managed to move forward, to get a job, to start dating, to adjust to living on her own, and to see her children’s lives settle after the shock of their father’s sudden illness and death.

    Last week over dinner I remarked that things seemed to have ‘stabilized’ well over the two years and she responded, ‘They have – but I couldn’t have done it without my single friends.’ I was touched but also surprised.  She had seemed so strong, even in her worst moments, so I asked her what she meant.

    It turned out that, in her case, her single friends were the ones who called to chat, invited her to the movies, let her talk when she was depressed, offered all sorts of advice on keeping busy and generally, were there when she needed them to be.  The women specifically, she said, had helped her think how her life could be lived alone again and created a network of supportive ‘singleness’ that she responded to in the early months of her bereavement, when doing coupled things as an uncoupled person was too uncomfortable. I think your comment, addressed to single or couple friends alike,  to ‘do things that aren’t specifically couple-oriented’ is well-taken, especially in the beginning. Thanks so much for writing the whole post and for including this one point in it.

    3 like

  4. Generic Image Téa says

    I really agree with the part about when she is making decisions, to help her talk it though and not tell her what to do, but ask her why she is doing this and help her think things through. I was widowed at 53 and I met a man and moved to a different country. It ended up being a really good relationship, but I lost a good job, my home, and entire family in doing so. Was it worth it? I wish someone had set me down and tried to help me see what I was losing.

    1 like

  5. Generic Image lovinglife says

    I was 51 when I lost my husband after just 5 mos. from brain cancer. It also didn’t fit in “our plans”. I would add to remember every one grieves differently and there is no wrong way. I agree it really does help to have someone to talk,cry and laugh with. Going to places where you didn’t go as a couple is important.  Just being there…..after having been widowed I have tried to reach out to others that have had to go through the loss of their spouse. It has been good for all of us. I did find out even more about myself after being “single” again after 28 years.  I am blessed because it has been a few years now and my life it different but wonderful and in another loving relationship.

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  6. GayleL GayleL says

    I really like the idea of doing something “new”. I was sharing this idea with a friend the other day when discussing a friend who had recently been widowed.  It was something she hadn’t thought of.  I know when I was widowed, very suddenly as the result of an auto accident, the development of new memories in addition to the treasuring of the old ones was very cathartic.
    One more thing, no matter how long a person has been widowed don’t ask if they are “over it” – meaning the grief.  We don’t get “over it” with get “on with it” but the loss will be with us forever.

    4 like

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