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