I often think misguided thinking can be the explanation for lack of action. Think about it. If we don’t know “why” we should do something, then “where” is the motivation to do it? We must first see the reason before having the drive to act.
Which leads me to this question: How long does widowhood last? And, more importantly: Why does it matter?
Answering the first question is easy. The second answer is a little more lengthy.
Widowhood lasts FOREVER! Even when someone remarries, they are still a widow. When a parent loses a child and has another one, it does not remove the loss of the child that has passed. They will ALWAYS be the parent that lost a child. A widow will always have a spouse that passed.
Why does this question matter? Well, most of society realizes the need to be there for a widow/er and the family, shortly after the loss. Sadly, many don’t have a good support system to even be given that. I have been thankful for the one I had! But, most people only realize the need in the short term. If widowhood lasts FOREVER, then what do you do for widows/widowers long term?
Oftentimes, people come from all over to be there for the widow/er in the initial loss. But what about after the 3 months when most people have gone on with their lives? What about 6 months? What about 1 year after the loss or 2 or 3 or 10? I’d like to lay out some practical ways to be there for them long term. Here are just a few suggestions. These ideas have come straight from myself and my widow friends:
- Be a listening ear and stay tightlipped but be open to the fact that they may not want to socialize at all. Grief sucks the life and energy out of you. DON’T take it personally but keep being there. Pray for them and with them but don’t judge. Read up on what to say and what not to say. Ask them what they find most helpful.
- Do they have practical needs? Help them find a way to get on their own two feet but still offer support. When they need help, please please don’t say “IF you need it, let me know”. KEEP asking, KEEP calling, and if they aren’t telling you, drop by their house and say, “I KNOW you need help…WHAT IS IT???
- Treat them to a massage! When a person loses a spouse, they also lose physical touch – hugs, kisses, holding hands, and intimate touch. They literally feel emotionally and physically starved!
- If they have small children, offer to take one or more of the kids to the park to play or do something away from the house.
- Offer to run errands – pick up groceries, prescriptions, etc.
- Offer to help her clean her house or do it for her.
- If she has just had a baby or has a very small child that doesn’t sleep through the night yet, offer to help by watching her children so she can get a nap.
- We always think of meal trains, but one widow suggested setting up an Amazon wish list of some things the family needs, so that it can be delivered and removed once the item has been purchased. Apparently, you can make it public without having to share the person’s address.
- Offering to help take children to rides to/from activities.
- Offering to help get the children to church on Sunday mornings. Or if she just can’t get the kids to church, bring church to her and her kiddos! GO BE THE CHURCH 🙂
- Offer to cut their grass
- Car and home repair or small engine repair, like when the lawn mower breaks…for the 3rd time (I had 5 acres to mow and would feel so helpless every time the stupid mower had issues…again)! — I remember the first time I had to pay for breaks on my car after Clint passed. It was $300 or $400! As I stood at the counter (wondering if I was being ripped off), I cried as I told the man checking me out that I had never had to pay more that $20 some dollars for breaks because my husband had always changed them himself! The man had no idea what to do and probably just wanted me to go away because I was making such a scene!
- Send Stephen’s Ministry grief booklets at the suggested time or other helpful grief books.
- Grieving children light up when people send gifts! Markers, coloring books, journals, puzzles, candy, movies, gift cards, etc are favorites! And, moms like those same things! I found such solace and escape in coloring!
- If you say you’re going to do something…DO IT!! It’s okay to say nothing. But, if you do, follow through.
- And, if the widow asks for something because she’s been asked to speak up about her needs, please don’t make her feel like what she has asked for is a burden. They already feel so helpless and scared and a burden! Responsible adults don’t want to ask anyone for help. It can feel degrading! So, if they are asking, show joy in helping.
- Grieving children also enjoy a break from their other grieving family members. Taking a child out alone for something special is so nice for them. Fishing, hiking, playing games, eating out, having them over to hang out with your family, seeing a movie are all examples of things you can do with them for years to come! Remember, they have permanently lost a parent. This situation does not change 1, 2, or 10 years down the road, unless God brings their living parent another spouse. Then, hopefully, that person will step into that “parent” role and be there for those grieving children. If not, STAY there for them.
- Preparing meals…even a year out…can be difficult for the only parent. There are many factors that can make it difficult — Grief can cause sleeplessness; maybe their is a new baby in the house that they are up with half the night…coupled with lack of sleep from grief; maybe they have a job on top of raising kids; maybe they have a child with a disability — type 1 diabetes (that requires around the clock attention and sleepless nights), autism, add/adhd, etc. So, meals are a HUGE help even 1, 2, 5 years out.
- When you stop by to deliver goodies or help around the house or bring a meal or help care for the children, ask if the widow/er is up to talking. They may just be ready to crash headfirst into their bed, turn on white noise, and let the whole world fade away. Be sensitive to their desire or lack of desire to chat.
One year, two years, 10 years, people are still coping with the loss. They are still trying to navigate raising children who have lost their parent and still hurt, as well as carry their own hurt. With every milestone, they are reminded that their person isn’t here to join in on their excitement of watching THEIR children grow and change and succeed. We can know they are in Heaven and having a splendid time and that they are watching, but we miss out on seeing their face light up or hearing it spill out in their contagious laugh! We miss seeing them tear up when their son or daughter say “I do” to the person they have decided to spend the rest of their lives with. Or when the grand babies come and you can’t see your person hold them and kiss them and look at you knowing, “we made this family and now it’s growing and carrying on what began from our love”. We miss their hugs when bad things happen and they are not here to bring comfort. Emotionally, widows/ers will always have emotional needs from a devastating loss.
BUT…if a widow/er has not remarried, the practical needs can continue just as long. If a widow had life insurance, the practical needs may not be as many as one without. But the realities of being alone and trying to make everything happen with the weight of grief is no less felt. Often times, the widow has to return to work very quickly. From the outside looking in, we see this as possibly a good thing. We think this will help them heal and help them focus on something else. In fact, we expect and push them to do so, and we see it as their duty to be responsible! In reality, at least from my perspective, this can often hamper their healing. The energy it can take to even get out of bed is overwhelming. The energy it can take to put on a smile when inside they feel like they are dying or already dead, can further bury them under the weight of it all. Then after a long day of barely making it, they have to come home and cook dinner, clean up, shuttle kids around who might complain about all they aren’t able to do because there is only one of you, and by the way, begin sobbing “we miss our mom or dad”. Then by the time darkness settles, grief, exhaustion, loneliness, desperation for no end in sight has long since settled in every heart that lives in the home that was once alive and bright with the person they all miss with every beat of their heart…every breath they struggle to take in. Only to wake up and do it all again another day…often amid questions from others of “smile, it’s been a year or two or three” or “you know they’d want you to be happy.”
Not everything I’m writing about in this post happened to me, but some did. I did not have small children to care for, a job I had to do outside the home, and I am now married. And, yet, I feel like I have barely gotten to where I’m at with my wits still slightly intact and hair on my head, although I haven’t escaped the wrinkles! I often wonder if people underestimate the hurt I still and will always live with, thinking all is well now that I am almost 2 years out and married again.
We live in a society that thinks the government must be taking care of widows. Or we mistakenly think that because women can work, unlike they could in Bible days, that they are fine and we don’t need to care for them in that way anymore. But, whether you’re a man or woman, widowhood is excruciatingly hard and painful! Some have it easier than others financially or in regards to the level of responsibility in the ages of their children but ALL of us deal with a grief that just can’t be fully understood unless you have lived it.
I think as a church, we have seen the plight of the orphan and have begun to try and figure out ways to do something about it. But, and I mean no disrespect, we are oftentimes a little slow in helping the widow. And, we forget the utter anguish they have and are enduring and expect things from them that they are just not able to do.
From ssa.gov: “Despite increased labor force participation rates among women and reforms under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, widowhood remains an important risk factor for transition into poverty, although somewhat less so than 20 years ago. Women widowed at younger ages are at greatest risk for economic hardship after widowhood, and their situation declines with the duration of widowhood. We also find that women in households that are least prepared financially for widowhood are at greatest risk of a husband’s death, because of the strong relationship between mortality and wealth.”
I long for a world that better understands and supports the widow/er. If you know a widow/er, what will you do today to help them through this new life they not only didn’t want or ask for, but seem expected to go forward in, with a smile on their face? One small act of kindness can make their day! And, it IS our Christian duty.