HELPFUL DO’S AND DON’TS (BASED ON OUR EXPERIENCES)
People are often shocked at how long grief lasts. It is a very long and painful process. Definitely a time when we need our family & friends to love on us. Our whole world has been turned upside down and we seriously doubt we are strong enough to make it. We are totally broken. The “firsts” (first holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) are extremely difficult but it doesn’t end at the end of the first year. Everyone’s situation is different but the first two - three years tend to be the most intense period of grieving. We continually move forward (not “on” which implies we are “over” our loss) but we move forward as new individuals forever shaped by our loved one and our loss.
Pastors often say ministry is 95% listening. It is so true. Widows need to talk. We need to talk about the unbearable pain, the silence and the loneliness. We also need to talk about our loved one. We need to share our memories and we need you to share yours. Even if it is hard. And eventually, when we are able, we need to tell our stories about how we are encountering God in this journey. Throughout this process, our faith and understanding of who God is will grow and as you listen to our stories your faith and understanding will grow also. More blessings than we can possibly imagine will be realized as we begin tell the story of God’s grace. Stories that serve an eternal purpose and will change the hearts and minds of others for God’s glory!
The statistics are staggering about the secondary losses widows experience. The loss of friends and even family can be tragic. Invite us to events, parties, over for dinner or for a quiet cup of coffee. We may say no again and again, but keep trying. Don’t pressure us, but give us time to get to a place where we can be social again. Understand that we may show up and without warning burst into tears. We don’t understand all the ways our bodies are reacting. Tremendous amounts of grace and forgiveness are needed. Allow God to guide you on how to comfort and encourage. Not knowing what to say should never be an excuse for hurting someone who is already in so much pain.
Words have the power to build up or destroy. Before you speak into a widow’s life here are a few things to remember: PRAY-LISTEN-LEARN-ENCOURAGE-REPEAT. There is no magic list of what to say or not to say to a widow. What works for one widow is upsetting to another. But the Holy Spirit lives in us and can guide us, if we take the time to pray for that wisdom. And in every interaction we need to take the time to listen to the widow. She might have been in an ok place yesterday or even an hour ago, but it can change in an instant. We need to really listen to understand how to support and encourage. In addition, learn everything you can about what it feels like to be a widow and what helps widows move forward. We encourage family & friends to follow our posts so they can hear first hand how we are processing our grief. Encourage widows any way you can as long as it is sincere. We have just lost our husbands, who were most likely our biggest encouragers. Even on the days we seem to have taken three steps back in our journey, remind us of the progress we have made. Short texts to know that we are being prayed for and thought about are great - but remember we need time to sit together also!
I had one male friend who was very handy around the house - he told me “I’m going to call you once a month and set up a time to walk through your house to fix the little things and make a list of things we need to get done.” He did that for two years. Best gift ever! I had another very trusted friend who paid my bills for the first few months while I was in shock. Huge relief! Prevented a lot of problems that would have happened if I had tried to do it on my own. I had two other friends come and do my outside christmas lights every year. Could I have done without? Yes, but it made the holidays more festive for my family and I felt so loved! I had other friends who went with me to important appointments so I wouldn’t forget key information and many friends who dropped by with homemade soups etc. months after my husband’s death. One friend brought me “get well” basket (7-up, crackers & medicine) when I got sick the first time after my husband passed away. And another friend brought treats for my dog randomly because she knew I just wasn’t able to do that kind of “extra” stuff. I had a couple of friends who called/texted my kids who lived in another city periodically so they would know how I was doing. Miraculously, my kids would call just when I needed it. It may sound intrusive but it was a huge blessing to me and my kids. I was having a hard time telling them how hard it really was. As you can tell I was incredibly blessed with family & friend support. Even now, five years later, I am overwhelmed with gratitude! You can bless a widow tremendously by offering to help in a huge variety of ways. One word of caution - if you offer to do something - you must honor your commitment. Widows do not need the extra burden of waiting for something to be done, only to figure out they will have to make other arrangements. Not only is it a terrible burden for the widow, but it is an awful example to set for others.Part of our story as the body of Christ, is how we care for one another.
I think one of the biggest struggles we face is suddenly feeling like our identity has been stolen. We don’t know who we are or what our purpose is. After the first few months, start encouraging us to participate again in activities we enjoy and also in new activities. Serving others can help us heal in many ways. Invite us to serve alongside of you but please don’t push if we are not ready. Even if we are not ready to get “out there” yet, we can serve by praying with you for the event.
The widow’s journey is an incredibly difficult journey but it is also can be a time where we learn more about who God is in a very tangible way. As widows heal they need opportunities to tell others about God’s faithfulness in their lives. It helps them continue to heal and it blesses and encourages those who listen. Whether it is a small group of friends, a gathering at church or a written story shared via social media, encourage the widow to tell her story! Help her glorify God with her life!
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