Thursday, July 28, 2011

Supporting a widow: it's a journey not a destination


By Vi - Friends of Widows Co-Founder

Being an emotional supporter for a widow is not easy. Our widowed friends don’t come with instruction manuals about how to handle their bouts of crying, their bitterness, anger, silent treatments, and everything in between.

If you have chosen to be an emotional supporter to your widowed friend try to remember that she is on a journey. She does not know her destination, or what her “new normal” will be… and neither do you. You may feel that you know best how she should be progressing through grief. You may feel that she should be “past” this or that by now, but as her supporter and friend, it is not your job to tell her where she should be or what she should be doing. It is your job to support her where she is, not where she isn’t.  

Supporting a person who has lost their significant other is completely different than any other type of emotional support you could give some one. In a normal friendship, most tough situations that your friend might be faced with come and go relatively quickly. If you help a regular friend through her break up, you are quickly helping her back onto her feet. She can “get over it” in a few weeks/months and will usually be back to normal. Supporting a widow is completely different. Her life is FOREVER changed. Acknowledge that. Respect that. Don’t try to change it. Her life and future plans have been completely altered and affected by her widowhood, and they can’t be “put back on track” in a few months, or even
years! 

I think often times we begin supporting our widowed friends the same way we would support any one else through any other crisis big or small. We then wonder why our witty sayings, our profound things we believe will be “her answer,” or our fruit baskets don’t make it all better. It is important for us to understand that supporting a widow is completely different than any other supportive relationship you may or ever will participate. One of the most helpful things for me to hear was the phrase (spoken to me by another widow) “you cannot fix her”. That took awhile to sink in, because I am naturally a “fixer”, and I think a lot of the struggles in my relationship with Rachel were coming from me feeling like I was a failure of a friend because I was not doing a good job “fixing” her by having the right answer how to alleviate her grief.

Do not go into your relationship with her expecting to be the “one” who says the magical right words that get her “back on track” and allow her to embrace life with a smile again. Those magic words do not exist. Nothing you say or do will “fix” her. Allow that to sink in….Nothing you say or do will fix her. Just as nothing can bring her significant other back. You can give her all the love you have in your heart, and it will still wont be enough because it is not be the love of her beloved.

This may sound depressing, and for a go-getter/problem solver like myself, it would almost make me want to give up. “If I can’t fix it, then why bother?” The answer is because you can offer love. You can offer support at whatever stage of the journey she is in. She has been abandoned by her best friend, lover, and the one she was committed to spending the rest of her life with. The future that was once bright and filled with wonder, now seems dull, cold and gray, and filled with nothing but lonely tears. She may be at the point where she can not see light and not feel love. What she needs is some one to come along side her to be a little warmth, light and love.

Choosing to be that friend, that warmth and the little light of love is a selfless act. She probably does not have the same personality that you have known and loved for so many years. She probably cries more that she laughs, and may speak many a harsh word to you when you are trying to help. Don’t regret choosing to help. She may not have the strength to thank you today, or even this year, but continue sharing love with her. Continue walking down the path with her. Don’t choose her destination for her. Don’t tell her that she has to have any specific destination. Sit with her when she does not have the strength to walk and remind her it’s ok to cry. Show her she is not abandoned and forgotten. Take your cues from her. Figure out her needs and minister to them. Each widow receives and responds to the love of a friend in different ways, so you have to discover for yourself the best, specific, ways to support and love your friend. Just know that being there on the journey with her is a good place to start.

Be willing to be the friend that she needs. Be willing to be the one that loves her through her tears. Be willing to be the one that may never be publicly recognized, but is slowly, step by step, helping her find herself again.

It is a heart wrenching, delicate journey of recovery and love. Don’t be afraid to step on the road beside her and be a hand to hold, and a shoulder to cry on. She will travel this road at her own pace and in her own way. Don’t tell her how to travel it, just tell her you will be with her along the way.

Keep in mind that when supporting a widow you will not get the physical encouragement of watching her “recover” in a week, as you would when supporting some one through a small hardship. But you will know that you are helping her life have a little bit of light, and sharing love with a person who may be wondering if there is any love left in the world for her.

There will also be times that you receive the silent treatment or receive bitter, harsh words from her.  It is easy for a supporter to say, “I would never treat anyone this way if my spouse died.” Here is the truth: We do not know how we would be functioning if the roles were reversed. Do not compare how you “believe” you would grieve to her grieving process.  Try not to take her anger that is being displaced toward you personally.  This is not easy. I know. Just know that she probably doesn’t realize how she is acting.  There is a fine line that you will need to determine regarding supporting her through her anger and maybe needing to take a break, and let her know that no matter how much she is grieving, it isn’t ok for her to treat you this way. This is a very touchy subject, something that needs to be handled carefully and with much grace.


Don’t give up hope supporters. Remember the beautiful heart of your friend, even as it is broken, is hidden under much grief. Remember her, and remind her through love, who she is. <3

5 comments:

  1. only an angel of God would actually want to be a friend to a widow. especially a military widow, a public widow. thank you for this.

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  2. As a widow, this blog makes me angry. I hate when people call me widow. I am still his wife. I also don't like people assuming that they know my emotions and how to handle them especially if you have not had your love taken from you personally. If someone used any of the advice given in this blog towards me I would remove myself from their lives. I hate kid gloves. Don't treat me differently like I have a disease. I am still the friend I always have been all along. My tragedy has only made me stronger and a better person. Please don't use it to define our friendship, how I should now live my life, or how you expect me to act. Actually people that have come into my life and acted like this after my husbands death were quickly forgotten and moved on from. I don't need to be babied. I don't even need my tragedy acknowledged ever if people will only pity me and handle me with such care. Being too nice to a person who is grieving is just annoying. My advice: This post should be deleted.

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    Replies
    1. I am fairly new 40ish widow and I found this to be an excellent post with very valid points. Many friends really have no idea what to do with someone like us-it's not an easy road and unless someone has walked it themselves, they can't know how challenging it is. It's also a very different experience for someone who is left financially well off versus one who is struggling financially just to keep their head above water.

      I not only lost my spouse (after a 3 year illness), but my entire lifestyle and in the near future probably my home due to foreclosure. I've been in the fight of my life to save what I have left since he died, as well as taking care of a difficult 90 year old who lives with me and working full time as a flight attendant who has to travel 2500 miles each way just to get to work. My husbands fairly large 20 year life insurance policy was cancelled just prior to his death because he missed his last payment, likely due to his illness. That one mistake turned what would have been an extremely difficult situation into one that has been devastating for me. Just from the comments they make towards me, I realize that even my very closest friends (with the exception of those who have extreme compassion or have experienced devastation like this in their own lives) have no clue how to deal with me or what kind of battle I have fought throughout his three year illness, death and now just for survival.

      I would generally be considered a strong person and outwardly I haven't spent nearly as much time as most grieving, however it still helps to read articles such as yours. I hope it helps a friend deal a bit better with someone like myself.

      Anonymous poster #2-- I'm sorry for your loss and the anger that you are still experiencing. I wish you the best.

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  3. Dear Anonymous Poster 1 - thank you for your sweet words of support. We are so sorry for the loss that you are experiencing but hoping you will have friends rally around you to support you. Hoping this site continues to help people like you, and especially helps your friends know a starting place about how to support you.

    Dear Anonymous Poster 2 - We are sorry that our blog has made you angry. Our intentions were not to offend or hurt any one. We are definitely not trying to say that there is a ‘one size fits all’ to grieving, and so naturally each widow will respond to support differently and each widow will need supported in a different way. We cannot know how you feel, we don’t claim to know or understand any one’s emotions. What we do know, and what we are sharing is from our own experience with our widowed friends, and what we have read and learned from literally dozens of widows on the internet. Each friend/supporter of a widow has to take what she reads here and see if or how it applies to supporting her friend. Not everything is going to help every person in the same way, and some things may not help some at all. We are just aiming to supply support and ideas to those that are sincerely trying to support and love on their friend who is widowed. If any, like yourself do not agree with what we post, then the simple solution is to not send your friends here to read this, as it would not be helpful for you or them. Other widows, with whom this blog resonates with things they wish their friends understood, have and may continue to send this blog address out to their friends so their friends can better understand what they are needing as far as support/help goes. Every person is different therefore every widow is different and has unique needs as well. We don’t know them all, or probably even most. We are just sharing what we do know in the hope that we may be a help to some.

    Once again, we are sorry for making you angry, yet we stand by what we are doing in love for the widowed community and for the friends of widows that this blog will help and is currently helping.

    With love, Vi and Erin.

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  4. I am a widow, three years on and still the tears fall. Yes there are days that are normal and others that are not. I joined dating sites just for companionship or something not sure what I can label it as. I feel guilty, I feel detached, I fell for a taker by giving him sex expecting love back in return.I am not so emotionable now as I used to be in my private moments. I appear to be coping well to the outside eye, but sometimes I feel so lost and lonely inside. I have had contact with a recent widower and he is lost as well inside and tries to be a rock to his sons and others offer their advice, one marking the day of his wife's death by a family day. Really he does not want this and I can not blame him as its personal and private the grief of his and his alone. Yes the sons have lost their mother but he has lost the love of his life and is not easy to get over.He needs a shoulder to cry upon and to talk and others to listen but as a man he is expected to be a man's man and not show any pain or sadness. Grief is total and takes a long long time to ease.

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