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
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