Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Make Me a Blessing: How to Bless a Widow {Guest Post}

It has been quite awhile since I've posted anything in my ongoing "Make Me a Blessing" series. In fact, it has been so long that you may have forgotten that I had such a series going!  ;)  If you'd like to read the previous posts in that series, click on Make Me a Blessing.

Today, I'm privileged to share a guest post by the amazing "Aunt Mae," who shares candidly from her life experiences what you should do -- and should not do -- to be a blessing to a widow (or widower).

Do you know someone who has recently suffered some kind of tragedy or loss?  I know it can be hard to know what to say or do.  This is written from the perspective of a woman who has just lost her husband, but this also pertains to a husband who has just lost a wife or parents who have lost a child or their own parents.  Having recently suffered the loss of my precious husband and being left financially destitute I can tell you what has and has not helped me.

1) DO NOT tell her to call you if she ever needs anything. She never will.  She won’t remember who said it.  She won’t know what kinds of things you could or would be able or willing to do, so she won’t EVER call you. Ever.  It isn’t that help isn’t needed for IT IS.  But the offer is too broad, too general and she is not in a state of mind to remember.
Initially she is in shock.  Shock plays havoc with the brain rendering her unable to remember simple things and the days pass by in a blur.  Getting out of bed is – a chore.  Getting dinner on the table is a challenge.  Simple everyday things are now mountains to scale.  Memory is a thing of the past she wishes would return!  Alas… even simple everyday things are too soon forgotten – and can even be a hazard to herself and her family.  We’ll not talk about the numerous times I ~could have~ burned down the house… just trying to reheat my tea on the stove…
Instead let her know what kinds of things you can and would be able to do AND WRITE IT DOWN ON A CARD FOR HER: fill the car with gasoline, cook a meal, rake/or mow the lawn, weed the garden area, shovel the sidewalk and driveway, clean the gutters, help her with the taxes, take a load to the dump, help organize a room/the books/the garage, help inventory what’s in the freezer and plan some simple crock pot meals with what’s already on hand (things that don’t require anything more than opening the bag and dumping into the crock pot… sauteing onions is beyond impossible…).
2) Go to all the hard appointments that are coming up (Social Security, VA, insurance, etc.) where they have to go over and over and over and over the same information ~ he’s dead ~ he’s dead ~ he’s dead. It’s draining.
3) Show up in a few weeks and just take her out to lunch and let her talk about her husband. I long ~ LONG ~ to hear someone speak about Robert or to just let me talk about him and how much I miss him.
4) Help her establish a budget and figure out how to pay the bills. He may have been doing all this and she has no clue, or she could have been doing this and if he lost her he’d have no clue. THIS IS A BIGGIE!!
5) Offer to help her write thank you notes. These can easily pile up into an unscalable mountain.
6) Get her a notebook (something medium-sized and pretty (or masculine for a guy) to keep track of what’s been donated/gifted and what needs a Thank You note. SET IT UP FOR HER with column lines and category titles on the first few pages. Don’t ask, just go buy her some thank you notes, a pretty pen and some stamps. You will be her hero. Another possibility is to help her set up a box (cover it in butcher paper or something pretty) to keep the cards in with some kind of divider for the ones that have had a TY sent and the ones that have not. I highly recommend a lidded something ~ my box got dumped over and I had to attempt to figure out what got a TY and what didn’t’. I do not recommend keeping track on the computer. The last thing you want to do is go turn on the stupid machine when you are in the other room and ready to write a Thank You note that is long over due.  Show up in a month or two or seven afterwards JUST to help with Thank You notes.
7) Make sure she is taking care of herself. Regular meals, regular showers, getting out of the house, exercise, etc.  Is she supposed to take supplements?  Help get them organized so they are easy to take and easy to remember (they might need to be kept IN sight… as there is no memory right now…).  Or a list on the cabinet door might be helpful.
8) DO NOT EVER PUSH her to make a hard decision that isn’t *necessary* (that should read critical) right now.  Decisions about the funeral will HAVE to be made now. What to do with his clothing IS NOT critical right now. Neither is it a critical thing to take his name off the car title… unless she is selling it tomorrow.
9) Help with painting the inside or outside of the house.
10) Help in locating repairmen for furnaces, appliances, and vehicles as well as helping her establish some kind of regular maintenance for these things.  Has she ever used a Home Management binder?  Maybe help her set one up with maintenance for appliances and home things on there.  She may not have a clue what should be done and when or how often.
11) Help in purchasing a new appliance or vehicle.  There are plenty of nefarious folks who love to prey on the helpless, uninformed widow.
12) Help with computer problems. You don’t have to be an expert. But when someone is in shock (and it can last a whole lot longer than we’d like to think or have to slog through) the brain just doesn’t function. Figuring out that the stupid thing isn’t plugged in fully might just be beyond one’s ability to cope right now. Having someone come to help WITHOUT judging her inability is priceless.
13) Offer to help organize the kitchen, living room, garage, garden tools, books, office, bedroom, whatever.  NOT with the idea of helping her get rid of anything but to help with the clutter. I know I can’t be the only one with it. DO NOT JUDGE. Make NO comment to anyone else EVER about what was or was not organized. It will get back to her (ask me how I know). Those kinds of things are not helpful and hurt. Needlessly hurt. When one is overwhelmed, it can be helpful for someone else to come in and help, NOT to judge. When you’ve lived with the mess for so long… you over look it and just move through it as best you can. True confessions here.  Thinking you’ll help her establish new cleaning routines is not for the initial aftermath.  She can barely get a shower… or out of bed… address something like this in a year or earlier if she asks.
14) Offer to help her lay out the pros and cons of big decisions and *IF* they even need to be made right now. It is highly recommended that one who has just suffered a tremendous loss NOT make any big decisions that are not critical to be made for at least a year so that there are no regrets about those decisions later. It’s too easy to make a hasty decision, especially if you feel pushed by well meaning friends, that you WILL regret later.
15) IF you are going to offer her advice make sure YOU have studied God’s word for yourself first on the issue.  Not some time in the past but RECENTLY.  Yes it will take you a bit of time to do.  Offering un-biblical advice to the recently bereaved is unwise at best and unrighteous at worst.  DO NOT read *into* what the Bible says but find out what the Bible does say.  I have been given an abundance of un-biblical advice.
16) Do not ever think that a sympathy card sent in a few weeks or even a few months later is bad manners.  It is NOT bad manners.  Getting a sympathy card anytime is letting her know you care.  Getting a sympathy card with a short hand written note is precious.  Did you know her husband?  A short note sharing a fun memory or how he impacted your life would be priceless.  You are not writing a novel or article for publication but a personal memory to the widow ~ and she will be overjoyed to receive it.  Are you the organized type?  Send her a card every month on the anniversary of her beloved’s death letting her know you are praying for her.
The same things can be said for a phone call except for the personal remembrance (that would be better written so she can save it).  Everyone is there in the initial aftermath.  Don’t get me wrong.  I was thankful for the initial phone calls, visits, help, cards.  But after that first week…  then there was ~ nothing.  Everyone has returned to their own lives and the widow is left alone, bereft, penniless, and in great need ~ and no one calls, sends notes, stops by.
17) When you see the recent widow in person don’t think you need to have some wise thing to say.  A hug goes a LONG way.  Don’t worry that something you say will cause her to cry.  She’ll cry no matter if you say anything or not!  Tears are healthy.  Tears are necessary.  Today’s society doesn’t like tears.  Everyone is supposed to be ~happy~ but life isn’t always that way.  Tears, loss, anguish, pain are a very real part of the human experience since Adam ate that fruit.  Acknowledging that she is hurting is helpful.  Talk about her recently departed husband; tell her a story about your interaction with him.  She longs to hear about him.  He’ll always be a part of her life and not talking about him or changing the subject if his name is mentioned is hurtful ~ bordering on cruelty.
I hope you find these suggestions helpful.  This is by no means an exhaustive list.  If you are stumped at how to help, pray and ask the Lord to give you an idea.  He’ll do that for you if you listen.  He’s creative like that!
Aunt Mae has been married to The Patriarch for 26 years. She is a homeschooling mother and on-line entrepreneur at, where you can find her handmade natural soaps and other handmade products (like her amazing earrings!).  She is also an essential oil fanatic who enthusiastically shares her love of natural remedies all to the glory of God.

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tealady said...

What a beautiful,wonderful,amazing,informative post.Thank-you for the suggestions.I sometimes feel like I really don't know what to say or do.Thank-you.

Linda B said...

Excellent! Thank you for sharing this post. A young friend of our recently lost her husband 363 days after their wedding. She is 7 months pregnant and we want to be a blessing to her. This is a perfect answer to how to do that.

Rachel R. said...

Thank you so much for being so very specific. I'm going to be saving this, printing it, Pinning it to Pinterest, etc.

If I might add one - not as someone who has been widowed but as one who struggles with chronic illness and, therefore, understands the difficulty of doing the day-to-day when you can't THINK - it might also be helpful to help her figure out (or figure out FOR her) what exactly is the minimum that needs to be done every day for her to function.

The dishes will have to be done. (Better still, get disposables so even those are minimal for a while.) She'll need to eat. But does the laundry HAVE to be folded? Does it matter if anything is vacuumed or dusted? Probably not, but she's probably not in a position to think through what can be let go until she's feeling more up to it (or for someone else to do on a periodic basis).

busymomof10 said...

Rachel R,

Thank you for adding another excellent practical suggestion to this list!


busymomof10 said...

Linda B, Wow! That's heartbreaking! So glad you are there to be a blessing to your friend.

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