Thursday, May 16, 2013

Grieving Time Frames - What is Normal?

I am sharing this post from Hope for Widows Foundation's Facebook Page - This post was written by Ellen Gerst, one of the Advisory Board Members of the Foundation. Their website is This story might help you understand that grief doesn't go away overnight and will be a long process for your widowed friend to work through. Be supportive and patient as she works through the process. 
If you are looking for a good book for your widowed friend, you may want to purchase on Amazon -Words of Comfort To Pave Your Journey of Loss - which is also written by Ellen. It is written for a grieving widow, by a widow, who has walked in her shoes and been successful at working through the grief process. It is an excellent read. 
Sincerely, Gwen
Right after my late husband passed away, a counselor told me that (because it was a sudden death) it would take me approximately five to seven years to feel truly healed from the wound inflicted upon my heart and soul. To tell you the truth, I thought she was out of her mind when she said that. I thought to myself, “That’s a really LONG time and I can’t imagine feeling the way I do for that length of time.”

Turns out she was right, though. When I hit the seven-year mark, it really did make a difference. It isn’t that I grieved deeply the entire seven years OR that I even grieved in the same way and for the same things each year. It was simply, somehow, at that juncture, it just felt different.

This turn of events made me consider the theory that states there is a natural release of energy every seven years. I think this encourages you to move forward and make changes. Moreover, learning to listen to your inner self, rather than to friends and family, or to your outer self (which is what you project to the world), helps you to flow with these cycles and find change less fearful.

Actually, this cycle of seven years also applies to your physical being. Steven Hall said, “Every single cell in the human body replaces itself over a period of seven years. That means there's not even the smallest part of you now that was part of you seven years ago.”

So, for those of you just starting out on your grief journey, I know that this span of 7 years looks interminable (and for those who experienced an expected death of their partner, 2-3 years is a more likely time frame for healing). The “trick” to get through every year to utilize the time for your best benefit. For me, those seven years were filled with self-discovery that has served me well since then. In fact, in regard to getting in touch with my true self, they were probably the most important seven years of my life.

Having shared all this, please know that this is simply my story and your grief and the time you will need to heal is unique to you.

Just as the Kubler-Ross model of the 5 stages of grief is a framework to validate your roller coaster of emotions, so the time frames mentioned above are a framework, too. You will work through your grief in your own way and in the amount of time you need. The operative word in that sentence is WORK, though. If you want to reach that “light at the end of the tunnel” YOU must participate in thoughts and activities that will continually move you one step closer to it.

©Ellen Gerst,

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dates to Remember

Should you ignore significant dates to your widowed friend because mentioning them will only make her re-live her pain? The answer is simple.  NO! Especially on significant dates, you want to let her know you are thinking of her.  From her point of view, she already feels alone and when people don't remember specific dates, it only makes her feel more alone.  Make sure to put these dates in your calendar and to reach out to her before or on these dates:

1) A week after the funeral - When many of the "to do's" are checked off, your widowed friend is going to be very aware of her husband's absence and is going to feel extremely alone even if there are multiple family members and friends physically around her.  We hear many widows say that when everyone moves back to their normal daily functions in the weeks after the funeral, they are still in a traumatic fog re-living the moment of his death. Everyone else moves on yet they can't because the moment they heard about his death, or they saw him die is constantly hovering in the forefront of their thoughts.
2) The one month anniversary of his death - this may seem weird to you but it won't be to the widow.  At this point, if the husband died on a Friday, they will be counting every Friday that has passed since his death. The one month milestone is one of the first realizations of dates continuing to happen while they are still frozen in grief.
3) The one year anniversary of his death - they will now have experienced all of their "first" everything without him and the one year mark is just the first of many years without him.
4) His birthday - She will still be remembering him on his birthday and will be glad someone else did too.
5) Her birthday - Everyone always wants to be remembered on their birthday but especially after they are spending their birthday without their loved one.
6) Their anniversary - Another hard date without him.
7) The holidays - Holidays are about creating memories. The first holiday without their husband is very tough because many widows are scared to create memories without him.  They will have many memories arise of wrapping presents together, holiday parties they attended, the children's responses to the excitement, etc and struggle through those bittersweet memories.

As a reminder, you may do these things and she may not respond.  Regardless, make sure to continue to remember her and these dates where she will struggle more than usual.   It will be appreciated regardless of response.

By Gwen - Co Founder of Friends of Widows & Hope for Widows

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why Your Widowed Friend Loses Focus in the Middle of Her Sentences....Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome

By Gwen - Co Founder of Friends of Widows & Hope for Widows

Over the last year, I've had the honor of meeting thousands of widows, and striking differences started to appear between widows who lost their husbands at a young age, and those whose husbands passed away in their later years.  As  I have been interacting with many widows, I started noticing similar patterns began to emerge. Many of these women were strong, business-minded women who had the world at their fingertips before their spouse passed.  Since then, they struggle to do simple life tasks of cleaning, laundry, paying bills, or signing their child up for an event.
My first experience with this came as a good friend entered her widowhood.  As a friend, I couldn't understand how she'd deteriorated so quickly from the capable woman I knew, and some days, I wanted to shake her and tell her to just sit down and do the task before her.  It became very frustrating for me when I saw things she needed to do that I couldn’t do for her, and she would say she would do them and then wouldn’t follow through.  It was procrastination to the Nth degree and could not understand why she wouldn’t do things that were very important for her and her children. 
Now that I've had the chance to interact with so many other widows, my friend's story is no longer unique. 
The second thing I've noticed is that many of these women wonder if they will ever get over the constant flashbacks of either the moment their husband died or when they received the news of his death.  One woman’s story sticks in my mind.  She wondered if she would ever get the taste of her husband’s blood out of her mouth from when doing CPR on her husband while trying to save his life.  She wondered if she would ever stop feeling the burn of her muscles from the constant chest compressions, hoping one more compression would bring him back to life.  She wondered if she would ever forget the feeling of sweat dripping down her face as she screamed at the phone, asking 911 how much longer until the ambulance arrived.  She wondered if she would ever forget the look of horror on her children’s face as they watched, mimicking her screams begging the 911 operator to save their dad. 
The amazing thing about this story is that I know 5 women who have almost this exact same story.
Most people's worry for a widow is, “What a sad situation. I hope she had life insurance. Hopefully she will remarry soon.”  What doesn't occur is the psychological impact.  For these women, their hopes and dreams of their future are intertwined with the existence of their husband.  Once he's gone, they don’t know how to move forward and will never, “get over it.”  Add that to the flashbacks of his death, the repeated nightmares when they close their eyes of attending their child’s sporting event and seeing their child melt down because their dad is not there or the big celebration they planned to have for their 20th wedding anniversary and he never shows up, and there you start to see the pattern of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Most people, when they think of the diagnosis of PTSD, they associate the term with military personnel, but it is very clear that this is happening with widows as well. 
A good example of PTSD triggers and how it can be explained in a short comparison to an experience most of us can relate to is when you ask someone about their “first love.” Immediately their demeanor changes to slight euphoria of the “memories” of their puppy love.  They will admit that when they hear specific songs on the radio, smell their old cologne/perfume, or pass a favorite spot, their thoughts bring them back to that era in their life where a feeling of sweetness and tenderness exists.  Well, those songs, smells, foods, and places are also triggers for widows.  Sadly, those triggers bring sweet memories but the trigger takes them to the future: dreams of vacations, events for their children, things they were going to do to the house, the leaky faucet they were going to fix, moments that are never going to play with their beloved husband now because their future has been torn away without an easy answer of replacement. 
Because of the PTSD association with the military, it is easy to sympathize with a military person who may never overcome the flashbacks and anxiety associated with what they saw while they were serving our country, yet we wonder why a widow hasn’t “moved on” after a short period of time, like 6 months.  Occasionally, people even go as far to say that once a widow remarries, she should “get over” the loss of her husband.  That logic would be similar to the comparison that if a parent experiences the loss of a child, having another child could replace the loss of that child's smile, laugh, or fun eccentricities and sweet hugs.  Many widows admit to their excellent acting skills.  To their family members and friends, they look like they are doing fine, yet inside they are seriously struggling. 
As a widow supporter, you can’t try to fix them.  You can support them and recommend they go to a therapist that specializes in grief and PTSD.  Even if children don’t witness the death, they are probably suffering from PTSD as well.  Children's suffering may be compounded because the surviving parent is in a black hole of grief, making them feel they've lost both parents and are silently suffering. 
Hopefully this has generated new insight into what emotionally is happening to a widowed friend and that this will be a catalyst to do more research on PTSD, and to increase sensitivy to what they are experience.

Here is additional information from an article on PTSD from
§         A normal response to trauma becomes PTSD when you become stuck.

§         While everyone experiences PTSD differently, there are three main types of symptoms:
1.       Re-experiencing the traumatic event
o        Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event
o        Flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is happening again)
o        Nightmares (either of the event or of other frightening things)
o        Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
o        Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)

2.       Avoiding reminders of the trauma
o        Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma
o        Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
o        Loss of interest in activities and life in general
o        Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
o        Sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career)

3.       Increased anxiety and emotional arousal
o        Difficulty falling or staying asleep
o        Irritability or outbursts of anger
o        Difficulty concentrating
o        Hyper-vigilance (on constant “red alert”)
o        Feeling jumpy and easily startled

§         Symptoms of PTSD in children and adolescents
In children—especially those who are very young—the symptoms of PTSD can be different than the symptoms in adults. Symptoms in children include:
o        Fear of being separated from parent
o        Losing previously-acquired skills (such as toilet training)
o        Sleep problems and nightmares without recognizable content
o        Somber, compulsive play in which themes or aspects of the trauma are repeated
o        New phobias and anxieties that seem unrelated to the trauma (such as a fear of monsters)
o        Acting out the trauma through play, stories, or drawings
o        Aches and pains with no apparent cause
o        Irritability and aggression

DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional of any type.  I am merely a friend of a widow who wished that more information had been readily available to me when my friend’s husband died to better understand what she was going through

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What to say when there is nothing to say

Recently we came across a website that we immediately bookmarked. There are just some sites that you can tell right away “this site is going to be an invaluable resource!” and Sympathy solutions is one of those sites. 

We asked for (and received) permission to share one of their articles with all of you, because it is really so helpful! After reading this article please take some time to visit the sympathy solutions website. There are a lot of great resources offered there including articles, gift ideas and more! <3 Gwen and Vi

What to say when there is nothing to say”
Offering words of sympathy is one of the most difficult things we face in this life. The fear of saying the wrong thing can leave a loss for words

We know that nothing we say or do can take away the pain. 

We know that grief cannot be fixed with a gift or flowers. 

We can't imagine what they are going through.

We may want to avoid the whole depressing situation altogether.

Did you know that most bereavement forums have a section devoted to venting about the rude and insensitive things people have said?

Did you know that many grieving people feel isolated from their friends and family?

 Did you know that many of the most hurtful remarks actually come from the nicest people?

Here's the amazing thing I've figure out. The simple things we do to express sympathy actually mean the most. It's when we start to make it complicated by trying to fix things or provide explanations that we get into trouble. That's about when our foot is heading for our mouths.

Sometimes it's the religious crowd (myself included) that really has an issue with this. We think that when something awful happens we should provide a reason why. We value having the right answer over empathy.

That's this one:
"God works all things out for good."

If you didn't know that this comment is not really helpful to someone mourning, now you do!
Simple sympathy is all about doing the little things that really make a difference to the grieving.

No advice
No solutions
No easy answers

A listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a comforting card, a phone call, a song, a poem, a thoughtful gift, a prayer, a hug and other simple things that make one day a little easier.

This also makes it so much easier to comfort a grieving loved one. You will find so many wonderful ideas here at Simple Sympathy. Not only will you not put your foot in you mouth, I bet you will be a treasured friend when it matters the most.

*Be sure to visit this link for an article on the simple sympathy website specifically for supporters of widow(er)s!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Supporting a widow from far away

When you live far away from your widowed friend it is easy to assume that you can’t do anything to help or that all of her friends who live close by are helping her so you aren’t needed, but don’t let distance keep you from supporting your friend in her time of need!
Here are just a few suggestions to get you started. (in no particular order)

1. Send a card - simple and sweet. You don’t have to say much Just a few sweet honest lines. If you have a favorite memory of her spouse be sure to share it in the card, she will cherish that. If you aren’t sure what to say, admit it and keep on writing! Even something short and sweet will help her know that she is still loved and thought about.

2. Food - Since you don’t live close by you cannot drop by with a casserole, but if you want to help her out with food items, consider ordering something from edible arrangements. They will deliver it to her, the arrangements are beautiful and it will give her something healthy to snack on when she does not feel up to eating a full meal.

If you know any of her friends that live near her you could also consider sending them money with which to order her a meal or stock her pantry.

3. Flowers- If you want to send an arrangement of flowers you can usually call a florist in her town and have them create something and send it to the funeral home, for the funeral or viewing.

4. Other gifts - If you would like to send her something other than flowers, there are several nice ideas out there. One thought, is to print out your favorite photo of or with him, frame it and send it to her. This could be included with a letter (see above) recalling a favorite memory you have of him or as a stand alone gift.  Here are a few websites where you can order sweet “in memory of” gifts as well as other gift ideas.

And here are a few more sites with more gift ideas than we included here!  one   two  three

5 - Gift basket - Could be called a care package or a sympathy basket. This is a link to one you can purchase online. It rather little pricey in my opinion, but I love the idea. This would be an easy gift to make yourself, and that way you could personalize it with her favorites as well!
Possible things to include:
“comfort food”, coffee or tea, home made photo book of her beloved, or a picture frame as mentioned above, a cd of soothing music, bath salts, a printed out list of online resources for widows. Etc. There are SO many different things you can include and it is great because you can customize it yourself throwing in a bunch of little things that she will appreciate and cherish.

This would be a good idea either soon after the funeral, or even on an “angelversary"

This is just a short list of ideas to get you started and show you how much you can do even with lots of miles between you and your friend! Get creative and step out and do something! You never know how much even the smallest gift or acknowledgement could help your friend feel loved and remembered in her time of grief. 

What about you?

Have you done anything “from afar” for your widowed friend? Please feel free to comment with more ideas of things you have done to support your widowed friend(s) and we may add them to our list.

Widows: if some one has done something for you that was particularly kind or helpful please also share so we may also add to our list that way as well. 

By Vi - Co Founder of Friends of Widows 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Support resources for your widowed friend

When your friend loses a spouse, it is VERY easy to tell them what YOU would do or THINK you would do if the roles were reversed. The first thing you need to know is that you SHOULD NOT tell them how you think you would react or how they should react because you really don’t know! I certainly didn’t when I started giving advice to my widowed friend! What I learned is that I could be there to support my friend physically and even emotionally to an extent, but I could not help her in the same way that some one who has “been there” could. When she really started to figure out that life could and would go on is when she connected with other widows. She found widows from one extreme to the other such as “pull yourself up from your boot straps and move forward…. 3 months after he died” to “my life has ended, everyone needs to feel sorry for me, I can not function so everyone around me please raise my kids….for 10 years.” You don’t know really how she feels or with whom she should connect but we wanted to give you a list of resources for her so she can find the connections she needs to move forward.

Here are a few suggestions we have to offer. Review this list, keeping in mind that every person is different and therefore needs different things. This is a small list of things to start you off if you are unsure how you could be offering support to your friend.

1) Many widows experience PTSD, if she is experiencing this then therapy would probably be a wonderful tool to help her work through the PTSD symptoms. You could see what her thoughts are on therapy, and ask if she would like your help in finding a therapist.

2) If she has children, it is likely that they may be experiencing symptoms of PTSD as well. It could be helpful to talk to her about getting her kids in to see a grief therapist to help them work through the trauma as well.

3) Let her know that even thought you don’t know what she is feeling you really do care deeply about her. Avoid telling her how you think you do understand because when your dog died you felt extreme loss….or some other unreliable story. Be there for her in her grief without pouring out your past grief onto her.

4) Connect her with others that DO know how she feels. So many widows have expressed how their friendships with other widows has been irreplaceable to them as they walk the journey of widowhood.

5) Keep the lines of communication open with her to know what she needs; but she should also know what YOU CAN GIVE AND WHAT YOU CAN’T GIVE.

the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation has an extensive list of resources for widows here. Some of the links are articles for 'friends' to read as they support their widowed friends, but most are resources for widows to help them through different things that they may be facing and to connect them with other widows.

We hope that this post gives you some places to start as you support your friend and figure out her unique needs.

 By Gwen - Co Founder of Friends of Widows & Hope for Widows

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Don't be afraid

Supporting a widow can, at times, be intimidating. Figuring out the "right" things to say and do is difficult. Even though every widow is different and therefore her needs and the way she grieves will be different, there are some things that seem to ring true with most widows. This is a small list created to help the supporter of a widow to see some basic guidelines and ideas about how to support a widow. Also listed are a few things that may seem like the right thing to do, but are generally not helpful to a widow.

We hope that this post encourages you to continue reaching out in love to your widowed friend, and helps you to understand more what you can do to help.

1) DON’T BE AFRAID TO: Keep in touch. Don’t assume your friend needs room or space to grieve. There is already something huge missing in their life. Don’t be another missing piece. A quick call, text, email, card, etc go a long way. Many widows comment that they are terrified that after the funeral is over, that people go on with their lives yet their own life will never be the same. Losing their spouse already creates the feeling of loneliness, abandonment, and insecurity of the future; they don’t need to lose their friends as well.

2) DON’T BE AFRAID TO: Verbalize and admit you don’t know what to say/do. Be honest. Tell them, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Widows would rather you tell them that you don’t know what to say or do vs. trying to understand by telling them a story of losing your friend or even a close relative. They may be able to hear your story later, but not now. Being there is more important than understanding. Pretending to understand is never okay.

3) DON’T BE AFRAID TO: Tell your widowed friend that you want to do specific things for them. A widow’s life has been turned upside down and they deserve clear and concise conversation. Normally, they are in such turmoil, if you ask them what you can do for them, they don’t even know what they want and may turn you down because saying yes requires energy to receive your offering. Tell them, “I am going to come over and sit with you at ___ time”; “I am going to bring you dinner on _____”; “I am going to go run errands with/for you because I see you need X Y and Z done. I will be over tomorrow to do that with you.” Try some of these instead of saying “Let me know if you need anything” or “Call me if you need anything.” If you feel like you are being too pushy, tell them you will continue to do things for them until they tell you no too or that it is too much. Too much is always better than not enough.

4) DON’T BE AFRAID TO: Talk about and mention your friend’s spouse. Let your friend know you still cherish the memories you all had together. Refer to our husband’s acts or words—serious or humorous. Widows are comforted by knowing that their spouse has not been forgotten. Many widows say that 2 to 3 years after their spouse’s passing, they long to hear someone mention the person who is still encompassing their thoughts yet seems to be forgotten by everyone else.

5) DON’T BE AFRAID TO: Invite your widowed friend to events. Even if they decline a few, keep trying. Don’t assume what they will or will not be up for. Let them know you thought of them and still would like to include them. Do not assume they will not be interested in participating in couples events. Many widows discuss how they were close with other couples and then they lose touch because the couples stop inviting them along which further isolates them reminding them that they are alone.

6) DON’T BE AFRAID TO: Accept where a widow is in their grief process. Marriages are brief, long, healthy, dysfunctional, intense, and remote.. Death comes suddenly or in tiny increments over years. Their marriage experiences are so different, as are we. Grief is a journey and there isn’t a specific timeline on when a widow should move from one stage of the grieving process to the next. Allow them to be where they are and don’t try to push them to the next stage because you believe they should be moving forward at a faster rate.

7) DON’T BE AFRAID TO: Follow up on what you said you would do. If you are not sure that you will be able to follow through on an offer (to take dinner, or do something with your widowed friend) then don’t make the offer at all. A better solution would be to merely say “I’m thinking of you” than to not follow through with what you said you would do.

*This post was originally a "status series" that we did on our facebook page. We made it into a blog so that it would be easier to find and read in the future.

By Vi - Co-Founder of Friends of Widows