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How You can Help a Friend or Relative, who is newly widowed

Updated on October 16, 2015

How to Help

You may wonder how you can help a friend or family member, when s/he has lost his or her spouse. Be guided by the person him or herself. S/he may need to talk, or not. S/he may need to concentrate on practical things for a long time. Unless you have suffered the loss of a spouse you have no idea of how it feels and everyone deals with that grief in his, or her, own individual way.

Don’t confuse your needs with the widow/er’s needs. You may want to talk about what happened, when the person died, or to mull over his or her life, but perhaps the widow/er does not, especially where the spouse died suddenly and without warning. Bear in mind that the remaining spouse may still be in shock and not ready to process everything yet. Never try to probe; each person deals with grief, and other terrible life events, in a unique way. It may be that they will talk to someone, but that person may not be you. It is not a rejection of you, in any way. Suggest a grief counselor by all means, but don’t try to press the person to go and see one, it may be that s/he person will talk to a trusted friend, or a stranger, in time. The things s/he wants, or needs, to say may not be for your ears, but that is no reflection on you or your relationship with the surviving spouse.

Never suggest that the widow/er will get over it, s/he never will. The suggestion to a widow/er that s/he is young enough to find someone else is not helpful or comforting, it is insensitive and crass. It is the last thing anyone wants after losing a spouse is to hear such comments; a widow only wants her own darling husband back, she does not want to replace him; no one could possibly replace him.


How you can help

The very best things that you can do to help a friend or relative grieving the loss of a spouse are to 1) help him or her with practical details

Help him/her in arranging the funeral perhaps taking the person to the places s/he needs to go to deal with the myriad of paperwork and the ranks of officialdom that one has to cope with when someone dies. Usually the surviving spouse feels overwhelmed by these details, and is in a state of total confusion having another cooler head on hand helps the surviving spouse cope.

2) The surviving spouse may not be eating; cooking something tasty that the surviving spouse can just put in the microwave or heat very quickly can mean that s/he will eat something. In the same vein, eating alone, when you have eaten with someone else for many years is the loneliest thing in the world. One way to help, is either to take them out for lunch or dinner, invite them to your house for a meal, or take a cooked meal over to their place and sit and eat together with the widow/er, even if s/he only eats a little, at least s/he has eaten something.

3) The most important thing that any friend or relative can do is to listen, if the widow/er wants to talk.

If you really want to help, be guided by the widow/er, make suggestions, by all means, but do not press him or her.

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