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How to support a recently widowed friend

Wed 15th Sep 2021

Couples share a strong bond and when a spouse dies, a part of them dies too.

Knowing how to support a recently widowed friend experience such a loss requires a lot of patience, understanding and a great deal of compassion. It will also be confronting at times, and confusing.

You might find it difficult to find the right words to say - after all, no words will ever take away their pain. You might not know whether to phone or text, or give them space.

Each person will grieve differently, in their own way and at different times, and while there isn't an exact guide on how to support a recently widowed friend, there are things you can do to show your love and support, and hopefully make things that little bit easier for them.

Be there Your friend will be numb and disoriented and won't know what to do. Be prepared for the immensity of their grief. It will be uncomfortable, unpredictable and you probably won't know what to do - and that is ok. You just need to be there for them. Be empathetic. Be available. Be patient.

Offer to help make arrangements

A lot of planning goes into a funeral, and a lot of big decisions need to be made which can be very intense for someone grieving. Support your friend through their hardest hours by offering to help wherever you can: research funeral or service venues, help them decide what type of funeral service they would like, wake options, offer support in their decision on who to deliver eulogies, prayers or poems, what music they would like played or sung. 

Send flowers, care basket or a card

A gift for a recently widowed friend is probably one of the most difficult gifts to give. Be assured that your gift might offer them some comfort as it shows you care and are thinking of them. A care basket can be filled with items like: snacks, wine, food delivery vouchers, babysitting contacts, cinema tickets, books, flowers even a framed photo of them together with a comforting blanket to snuggle.

Don't underestimate the note that accompanies your gift either; it might in fact be the most sentimental of all. Don't be afraid to write from the heart, or to keep it as simple as 'I'm thinking of you.'

Food

The tradition of offering a meal to those who are grieving has been a nurturing practice for centuries. A recently widowed friend in the midst of grief will probably forget to eat, so providing them with a meal will not only give them some nourishment, but also comfort them knowing they are being cared for. They won't have the capacity to think about groceries either, so consider organising this for them and have it delivered - you could even send a card with an online food delivery service voucher enclosed.

Share the load

Housework will be the last thing on a recently widowed friend's mind, so offering to help in any way you can will go a long way - but don't be offended if they say no or hesitate your offer, they probably won't have the ability to respond to such menial affairs. So be proactive and take care of something you know would help like: mow the lawn, do a grocery shop, walk the dog, offer to take their kids to the park or fundraise with friends or colleagues and chip in for a fortnightly cleaning service. Most importantly, if you say you're going to do something, then do it. The last thing they need is to feel let down.

Don't avoid using the deceased's name

It's not uncommon to feel awkward around a friend who has experienced the loss of a loved one, not because you don't care, but rather the exact opposite. We care so much that it can be hard to find the right words to comfort them, and we fear we might stumble on the wrong words unwittingly causing them pain. However, you can't remind a widow of a death because they are living and breathing the loss every day. Therefore, don't avoid using the deceased person's name. Yes, it might feel uncomfortable but understand that your friend will need to talk about them as it reinforces to them their loved ones' life was worth remembering.

Send a grief-related book

There are so many layers to processing grief and a widow will often feel isolated because they feel no one truly understands their loss. Grief is a pain felt so deep that sometimes the right words simply can't be spoken. There are no shortcuts to grieving but there are books that can offer a recently widowed friend solace knowing their own loss is mirrored in that of others. Reading what others have learnt through their own grieving process might help validate their feelings and reactions.

Keep in touch

It's important to keep checking in with your friend long after the funeral or service has taken place. Grief doesn't just end, the grieving process can take years and they will often struggle more on holidays and special occasions.  So reach out to them on their loved one's birthday or wedding anniversary, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day or Father's Day.

Losing a life partner is one of the greatest losses one can experience. Your patience, love and understanding during a recently widowed friend's grieving process will help them in more ways than one. Their pain might last for years or forever, and so remember to keep them in your thoughts long after your sadness passes to help them move through theirs.

Support

You might also want to encourage your friend to seek out a professional to talk to. There are many online resources and support groups available so if you feel they are feeling overwhelmed, or lost, let them know there is support available.

Beyond Blue provides Australians with information and support to improve their mental health. Call 1300 22 46 36 or visit beyondblue.org.au for more information.

Lifeline Australia provides Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24-hour crisis support. Call 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au for more information.

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