How to support a recently widowed friend – 6 ways

January 2, 2013 at 1:38 pm in Family & Relationships by VN Featured Comment

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.]