I. Make a connection:
Buy one of those cards that allow you to word your own message. She needs to know that you want to help her even though
you don't undetstand what she is going through. If you have never been widowed yourself don't tell her you nderstand.
She knows that you can't possibly understand unless you have walked the road yourself and will be put off by your ingenuineness.
Learn More About Grief
Maybe you'd rather arrive at her door--unannounced--with
a special gift (such as her favorite chocolates, a bunch of daisies, or her beloved Greek olives). Include
a brief note, "I've been thinking of you." I was very touched by a guardian angel pin a friend brought me in this way.
I can't say why, but it made me feel less alone. I also was very grateful for a widowhood book a casual friend gave me. A good book can truly be a gift that keeps on giving. The idea is to show
her that you know she is in pain, that you care and that you want to try
to be her friend.
After making an intial gesture of friendship, it is time to dig in and learn all you can about widowhood. I
really appreciated my friends who cared enough to learn about "my condition" and how to help me. There is plenty of good grief material on this and other websites, in general interest
magazines and in widows' self-help books (such as my For Widows Only!). Check your library or on the Internet
for recommendations. For great articles or pamphlets, consider those from American Hospice Foundation. They are
consistently good, the best I've found. (Go to: www.americanhospice.org to print articles.) Funeral directors often have materials to help. I am especially
fond of those from a company I know, called AfterLoss. AARP produces a wide array of materials for the widow over 50, some
of which might help you. (Go to: www.aarp.org to print them out.) If your friend has lost her mate in the armed services, contact a great organization...TAPS
(Tragedy Assistance Program Services) and ask them for materials. (Go to: www.TAPS.com to find out how to help). If you find anything particularly interesting, share it with your friend, perhaps
saying, "I didn't know this...".
Just don't ever think that you know more about
HER widowhood than she does. You don't, and she doesn't want to hear it!
Try to learn about the stages of grief, how long her grief might
last, how different widows respond differently to grief, and also how any widow may respond differently on different days.
Learn whatever you can about grief, so that you will understand some of what she is going through. That step alone may improve
your relationship with her.
Learn Special Skills
Really Listen: When your friend is talking,
bite your tongue and listen...really listen. Unless she asks, she probably doesn't need to hear your thoughts, but she does
need to talk about her own. Endless talk helps her more than anything. What is she really saying? Can you imagine yourself
in her shoes? Does she need more help than you can give her? If the answer is "Yes," ask her doctor for advice.
Meet her gaze: ...even
if it hurts. Try not to show your discomfort by avoiding her gaze. Let your eyes show her your concern and sympathy. Don't
worry if you shed a tear or two, but don't try to do so. She is acutely aware right now of how people act and what
they say. She won't appreciate any artificial concern.
Don't interrupt with questions: Don't
interrupt and don't be afraid of silences while she gathers her thoughts. But when it feels appropriate, ask a sincere question.
If she is having a hard time expressing how she feels, sometimes a simple question can help her get her thoughts together.
Do not judge:
It doesn't matter how you handled grief, if you have, or how your Aunt Myrtle did. Each widow is entirely unique and will
grieve in her own private way. Her way is right...for her. This is an essential fact to learn, and to pass on to others who
may be critical of your friend's manner of grieving.
Develop a shell: Widows are almost entirely
self-involved during grief and can unwittingly say things that are offensive to others. Understand that and don't let any
off-handed remark stir your emotions. Simply tell yourself that she isn't thinking clealrly; let it slide right off your back.
If she tells you to leave and never come back, go but assure her that you'll be there for her when she needs you.
expect consistency: The only thing widows are consistently...is inconsistent. Be flexible and braced for a ride
up and down hills and through valleys, with fits and starts to boot. Try to accept this as a temporary failing. One day she'll
be as rational and orderly as she ever was. Her "highs" or "spirited outcries" are practice sessions for when she begins emerging
from her grief.
Use correct words: Try not to pad or frost your words about her husband.
Don't be ornery about it, but simply be sure you use the proper words when you speak of him, even if she doesn't. He died;
he is dead; death is painful for the survivors, etc. Correct language helps her reality sink in somewhat
Develop the patience of a saint
A few dear souls are lucky enough to naturally
have the patience of saints. Most of us, however, need to work on that skill. More than anything else, that's what it takes
to remain close to a widowed friend. To develop patience, you must practice it. When you're alone, practice how it feels
to be patient. It's calm, cool, collected, assured. Imagine yourself listening endlessly, without interrupting, for example.
Imagine yourself smiling patiently as she recalls a sweet old memory for the tenth time. Imagine yourself being patient when
she is in a crisis but you really should be at home starting supper. Check yourself in the mirror: do you appear patient? If
you are just quiet, but harried looking, she will sense your impatience. Practice being patient with everything: your computer,
your children, your mate, your dog, your boss. What can it hurt? Your own life may improve, while you learn the skill of using
patience with your widowed friend.
V. Learn to be Helpful, Not Pushy
"Would you like me to help you...?" will go a lot further to help her than "What
you need to do is...." or "This endless crying doesn't help anything." Dealing with a sensitive widow can often be like trying
to dance around barbed wire. But you can learn to tip toe cautiously when necessary. Listening may be your most effective
help, but don't be afraid to offer occasionally to help her with the dishes or with straightening up the house for an expected
visitor. Let her be your guide; don't "help" her more than she is comfortable with. Early in her
grief she may appreciate help with her thank-you cards, or preparing meals for out-of-town guests. Later on, she may need
your help in disposing of her late husband's belongings (a painful task even with help), or gathering necessary papers for
the tax man. Her emotional health should be number one, but if you spend much time with her you can double your usefulness
by pitching in with whatever needs to be done. Undone chores can wear on her shoulders, making life even more intolerable.
VI. Decide your
level of commitment
Set some guidelines regarding your involvement with your friend. Don't even think of being with her every
day for eight hours. She'll learn to hate you. She needs time alone; just not too much of it. How much help does she
need? How well do you know her? How close do you live to each other? How much free time do you have? How much free time does
she have? How much help do you think you can be? Consider also the following:
Do you want to become
her one "emotional savior?" Every widow needs one.
Do you want to be available to her whenever she needs
you? Day or night?
Do you just want to learn how to modify
your behavior toward her, be more sensitive but not the "one" she relies on daily?
Do you want to offer more practical services:
as a driver, lawn worker, accountant, instead of dealing with heavy emotional issues?
Think about it and be realistic about
how much of a commitment you can make to this effort. Don't take on more than you can handle, or than your mate or family
can handle. Sometimes just having her know of your availability might be more appreciated than frequent
or long visits. Her own time may be tight because of small children at home or a job she needs for income. If you know
her well, work out an arrangement with her that takes her life--and yours--into account. Consider walking together early in
the morning, going to the gym together in the evening or just give her a card with your cell phone number, that says "Any