THE DO'S AND DON'TS OF SUPPORTING A WIDOW OR WIDOWER
LEARN WHAT HELPS - AND DOESN'T HELP - SOMEONE YOU LOVE GOING THROUGH A SIGNIFICANT LOSS
1. DO NOT share the details of your pain and grief with the widow.
The concentric circles of support dictate that the grieving party is in the center circle, and those who are experiencing the loss to lesser degree circle out from the center. Support and encouragement move inward toward the people most hurt and grieving, and venting and emotional release move outward toward those less close to the loss.
Don't burden the widow with your pain, even if you think it is a way to connect and share a common loss with them.
2. DO offer specific support. Name 3 things you can do, and let the widow pick.
Simply saying, "I'm here if you need anything," is a burden you are placing on the widow to come up with instructions for you. Don't be that person. Instead, determine 3 specific ways you can offer support, and when the widow gives the green light, follow through in a timely manner.
Making widows ask for help is not kind. It can be very difficult for a widow to ask for help because people move on with their own lives, and the widow might be unsure about which requests are OK vs. which are intrusive.
3. DO "be there" - literally. Check in frequently and long after the funeral is over.
After the first wave of abandonment with their spouse's death, widows often experience a second wave of abandonment with friends and family who go back to their own lives after a few weeks.
Go ahead and log something into your calendar or your phone that will ping you weeks and months from now to check in on the widow. Do not assume that because YOU don't hear from THEM that they're doing just fine. Reach out to offer a kind word when everyone else has moved on and left the widow alone.
4. DO NOT tell the widow how to grieve.
Everyone's experience is different and unique.
Don't tell the widow to "be strong." Don't tell them to "let it out." Don't tell them to get into counseling. And NEVER, EVER tell them to move on, move forward, or get over it.
You are not an authority on their pain. If the widow asks for suggestions, offer them. But otherwise, keep your opinions about the grief process and what they ought to do to yourself.
5. DO NOT compare pain.
These are examples of what NOT to say:
"I know exactly what you're going through. My beloved dog died last year, and I was a mess for months and months."
"I went through a similar grieving process after my divorce. My whole future was wiped out."
"You are still young compared to others. You'll find someone new."
6. DO recognize the widow's experience and their pain.
These are examples of what to say instead:
"I'm so sorry for loss. My deepest condolences."
"I see your grief and your pain. It doesn't make me uncomfortable. I'm here."
"I would like to offer help in these 3 ways. [List them specifically.] Would you like me to do any of those now? I can offer again in two weeks when I check in on you."