What Widows Wish People Knew To Support Them

Last Updated on February 22, 2022 by Sarah Gallagher

I’m going to talk today about What Widows Wish People Knew To Support Them. Especially after the funeral. It’s emotionally difficult to cope with the loss of a loved one, and it can be very difficult to explain to others what they need when they ask if they can help. If they ask you at all, because it doesn’t even necessarily happen. Especially after the funeral. 

 As you probably have noticed, when you first lose your husband or wife, everybody comes out of the woodwork. They come and try to support you. They make sure that you’re okay. They want to hear your side of the story, what happened. They want to hear how you’re feeling.  

They want to hear how much you cared for your deceased partner. They expect you to make a grandiose speech at the funeral. However, at this point you’re probably still shell-shocked. You don’t even know what’s going on. This is brand new to you, you’ve been just been thrown into this world. It’s like this whirlwind.  

Now, all of a sudden, you’re expected to speak out about everything you’re feeling and to sum up everything you want to say about your dead spouse right during the funeral. This can be particularly overwhelming.

If all those people there supporting you sounds very familiar, then it can be fantastic too if you have the advantage of that happening, because for some people, they don’t even have that support.  

What Widows Wish People Knew To Support Them

Don’t Disappear After The Funeral

 

So, the funeral has happened. You’ve made your speech. People have said their condolences. Now, it’s been a week and there’s crickets. People wanted to hear your side of the story, you said it and now all of a sudden, they’ve gone off to their own lives. They have said their tribute to your spouse. They’ve paid their respects. That’s it. They wash your hands of it and go on with their lives.  

 

Meanwhile, you are here trying to figure out what exactly is going on. You have barely started to adjust to the fact that you are living in this new life. In fact, in most cases, you’re not even adjusting. You’re still in shell shock, asking yourself what exactly is going on? Why isn’t your husband or wife coming in through that door? Why aren’t they texting me? How is this my life? It just so much.  

 

People might think that grief is all about the sadness and crying, and all these deep bad feelings. And it is that, but it’s all these other feelings too. All the feelings that could ever happen, all happen at the same time. They hit you like a tsunami, and then they fade away, and you’re numb again until they hit you again. So, when people ask you how you’re feeling, it can be very difficult to put that into words because there is so much going on. So much going on that you can’t even describe it.  

It also becomes tricky because all those people who were at your funeral, they’re not there anymore, right? They’re not supporting you anymore. 

It’s Really Hard to Talk About All Our Feelings

If, after the funeral, someone does come up to you and asks “Hey, how you feeling?” How do you even respond? Do you actually talk about how you’re really doing? Maybe you start small, saying, “Well, you know, I didn’t sleep well last night because I was thinking too much about all the things I have to do on my own tomorrow. And, oh yeah, I woke up at four o’clock realizing that Frank wasn’t sleeping beside me. It freaked me out, because I couldn’t hear them breathing. That took me a few seconds to realize it was because they’re not there anymore.”  

Once you start going into these things, the person’s eyes glaze over. Or maybe they kind of unprepared for these truths, and are scared by this admission, so they awkwardly take their leave. They don’t want to have to deal with this, right? For a lot of us grievers, when we hear anyone ask “how are you doing,” or “how are you feeling”, because we get that glazed over look so often, or people just shut down the conversation so quickly, it’s hard for us even want to share anything of what we’re feeling.  

Really, they don’t want to know, do they? They don’t really want to know everything that you’re going through. They don’t want to deal with it. They’re afraid that if they listen to you, they’ll be overwhelmed by all of it. Because grief is catching, and they don’t want any of it.  

After a while, all widows learn that it’s best not to say anything. So, when people ask “How are you feeling?”, you just say “I’m fine”, or “I could be better”, or “I’m dealing”. You just glaze over it all. You don’t want to go into the nitty gritty of facts, of how you’re really feeling.  

Really, they don’t want to know, do they? They don’t really want to know everything that you’re going through. They don’t want to deal with it. They’re afraid that if they listen to you, they’ll be overwhelmed by all of it. Because grief is catching, and they don’t want any of it.  

After a while, all widows learn that it’s best not to say anything. So, when people ask “How are you feeling?”, you just say “I’m fine”, or “I could be better”, or “I’m dealing”. You just glaze over it all. You don’t want to go into the nitty gritty of facts, of how you’re really feeling.  

It’s very difficult to be able to express this to somebody who hasn’t gone through it. When I was researching for this article, one of the things that came up again and again and again, is that you cannot understand what a widow goes through unless you are widowed yourself.  

This is why it’s so important to join widow groups like my Facebook group, or to seek out counseling or coaching. The people who have been touched by grief, like the widows in these groups or even myself, understand exactly what you’re feeling and how to get you walking your next step. We emphasize, we understand completely. We don’t pander to you; we know that you’re stronger than you ever have been.  

How You Can Help A Griever

Now, what if someone is truly genuine when asking, “Hey, can I how can I help?”, how would you respond? It can be difficult to say, “I’m overwhelmed here, come help me out,” because there’s just too much.  

Plus, you don’t want to seem like you’re always asking for something, because you’re more than that, right? You’re more than just a widow. You are so much of what your ambitions are, what your hobbies are, who your kids are, and of course what you’re going to do next. 

Life still needs to go on. Going grocery shopping, or taking the kids to the park, all of these are normal things that you need to do while coping with all the different feelings that are bubbling underneath. Trying to explain that to somebody is very difficult.  

When somebody asks you, “Hey, how are you doing? How can I help?”, it can be an overwhelm.  

To make this easier, I’ve put together a resource of ideas that you can give to your people when they ask how they can help. Even if they don’t ask, I’d recommend posting this list somewhere visible on social, say your Facebook profile, or Instagram, or whatever. That way, if people do come to you with questions, you can point them towards this resource. It’s easier than repeating yourself a billion times.  

Related post: How To Stay Sane When Solo Parenting – COVID-Edition

Someone to Just Listen 

The first thing you’ll probably want is someone to just listen, to be present with you. You want them to sit with you as you unleash all these different feelings that you have inside. You’re not looking for unsolicited advice, though responding to your feeling with sympathy would be nice. 

You and they will understand that they can’t give you true empathy. But for them to actually say “I don’t understand what you’re going through, but I’m here for you.”  

Let’s get into more about what that means, because if you want your friends to help you, they’ll need some guidance on what you expect.  

Don’t Say Patronizing Things 

It might feel like the right thing to say, but they need to know that have to stop saying, “I don’t know how you do it.” Or, “You’re so strong.” These things we hear all the time, and it’s frustrating because we don’t really have a choice.  

We don’t have a choice to be strong or not be strong because this is our life now, and we have to deal with it. So, you reminding us that, “Oh, we’re so strong, or I don’t know how I do it”: it’s patronizing. It really is. It doesn’t come across as helpful whatsoever. This is our life, we need compassion, not pity. There’s a huge difference there. A very fine line, but a huge difference.   

It’s Okay Not to Know How to Fix Things 

They need to know that it’s okay not to know what to do. If you get upset or start to cry, it’s okay not to know exactly how to make you feel better.  

Grief isn’t something that you can fix; it’s a something that you have to deal with for the rest of your life. This is because as much as you love your person, you will grieve for them. Know that it’s okay, that if you get upset that they can stick around, sit down with you, and be there as you process your grief. Don’t try to fix anything.  

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Offer Suggestions On How You Can Help

Now I know it can feel guilty for you to ask for help, right? There are so many little tiny things that you need. You’re so used to having someone there to know exactly what you wanted without you even having to ask because your husband or wife knew you so well.  

So, when your people ask you, what they can do, turn it the other way. You need them to offer up specific suggestions for what they can do for you. Only they know what they are capable of: if they can come to your house and help you clean it once a month; if they can Timmy to gymnastics once a week for you. What you need is specific things for what they can do to help. Again, there’s so much going on in your life, and theirs, that you can’t pick and choose for them.  

They can walk with you. Go on a chore with you. They can sit with you around a coffee table, just to have a chat. They can go to the grocery shopping, make dinner and eat it with you.  

Just knowing that there are people out there to connect to can be so important.  

It’s Okay to Talk About the Dead 

People need to know that it’s okay for them to talk about your dead spouse. In fact, it could be a relief to have someone else talk about what you’ve been thinking about all the time. Knowing that you’re not the only one trying to remember them. Hang onto the memories of the life they had because their legacies shouldn’t be their death, right? They had such a glorious life. There’s so much there’s so much to talk about.  

Your friends shouldn’t need to worry about reminding you about them. Ha – really, you’re never going to forget them; They shouldn’t worry about reminding you that you’re upset, you’re in grief because you’re already there. Right? Just talk about them. It’s okay. In fact, you probably really appreciate it.  

What Widows Wish People Knew To Support Them

Invite Them and Their Kids Out 

It’s totally cool to invite you guys along for the ride. A simple, let’s go somewhere together. Not in a patronizing way. Something like, “We’re going to the movies, and we’d like to know you and your kids would like to come.” Just something like that. We are going to do this; would you like to join us?” and then show up. Don’t commit to something if they’re not sure – the last thing you need is people who said they’d be there for you flaking. 

 

Related Post: 5 Life-Changing Ways to Find Yourself After Losing Your Spouse (even if you’re not in counseling)

 Connect Over the Calendar Year  

One of the things that really come up a lot – and unfortunately, it’s very typical – is that people seem to fade away into the background. They can’t be there for you as much as you’d hoped because they have their own lives to get back to.  

For myself, I just like human connection. I just want to know that there’s someone there. However, maybe you’re someone who prefers to push away the outside world, because you don’t feel like you’re a part of it anymore. For some of you, it’s just you and your grief, and all the emptiness that comes with it. Outside of your world, everything seems to be rushing around so quickly, and you don’t really feel like you’re on that same timeline anymore. It’s very easy to push away from the outside world, stop talking to your friends, bunker yourself in, which consequently makes you feel even more isolated than ever.  

If your friends ask you how you’re feeling and how they can help, you can tell them to check in every couple of months, just reach out, to know that they are thinking of you. When you eventually come out of your shell, it’s heartening to know that they’re still there – waiting for when you’re ready. This a very simple kind of thing that your friends and family can do to help.  

Share This With Others

As all of this is so much for you to quantify, especially when you’re still grappling with your grasp of your new reality, take this list and use it to your advantage. Post it to your social. Send it to your friends. As much as you need help and support, they need guidance on how to be there for you. 

 

I think it’s important to normalize grief, not just for you, but for the world out there. We can do this one step at a time, help ourselves as well as our friends and family who are trying to be there, but really don’t understand how. They really don’t until they’ve been there themselves. Hopefully by putting together a little list more quantifiable, actionable things we can work together in getting you the support you need. 

If you need help at all to figure out how to do the first step, or you want me to sit down with you for 45 minutes to walk you through, book a call with me.

Your grief, your journey. – I’m just here to help.

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