Every few weeks, I get a panicked email or call from a friend or acquaintance or stranger from the internet. “I don’t know what to do,” the person tells me, “my friend/sister/neighbor/colleague just lost her partner, and now she’s a widow. How can I help her?”
I always ask more questions before I answer. Because, really, it depends. If this is your best friend, there are lots of things you can do. You can offer to help her deal with the funeral arrangements or stay overnight with her so she doesn’t have to be alone. But if she’s not a close friend, you may need to figure out another way to be helpful. Call her up when it’s been a month or two, and offer to bring groceries, or tell her you’ll take her kid to soccer with your kid, as you’re going anyway.
There are a million ways to help, so when I get a question like this, I try and figure out what the best answer is given the situation. Do you know whose emotions I always consider first? The widow.
Yes, it’s important to think about the kids and other family members. But what I know is the perspective of the widow. I know what it’s like to be her, at least a little bit, even if our lives are very different. I know what things can often change between the funeral and the six month anniversary. I know what it’s like to live through your first wedding anniversary without your spouse. I remember what emotions can fill your body when you wake from a dream and reach for the person on the other side of the bed, and he’s not there.
No, I don’t know everyone’s experience. I don’t know what it’s like to lose your house (though I do know what it’s like to have absolutely no idea how to manage your finances) and I don’t know what it’s like to find love again (though I do know what it’s like to try.) I am not an all-knowing widow.
But I am a widow who has survived almost two years of this new life, and somehow, I can (imperfectly) answer questions about grief and loss and love, both for widows and non-widows.
And I have a platform.
So today, friends, I am going to try something new out. I’m going to start answering your questions. If you are a widow who is struggling with something, write me. If you are a friend of a widow who doesn’t know how to help, ask me. If you are a therapist who has a unique perspective, please let me know. If you are not a widow, but someone who has lost someone, I’d love to hear from you too.
I guess what I’m trying to do is to make a “Dear Abby” column for those of us who are grieving, and particularly those of us grieving the loss of a spouse. I am not a therapist, and I really can’t solve many of the problems widows face. But what I can offer is the perspective of someone who has lived life as a young widow and listened to countless stories from other people. I’ve already answered many, many emails and sat through many, many discussions about grief and loss. Now, I am opening up that discussion for my readers.
So, if you’d like to write me, you can do so via my blog (publicly in the comments section) or you can write me at email@example.com. You can also contact me via private message on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/dcwidowblog/ Or, if you know me in person, you can pull me aside at the elementary school picnic and ask. Hey, I’m open to whatever form this takes.
I’ll keep the questions anonymous and your identity confidential.
What do you want to know about how to help your grieving friend? What sorts of things are you facing as a young widow, and how are you trying to navigate those issues? What unique issues do you face as a parent and a widow? How are you negotiating a new living situation, a new workplace, or a new city while you are also grieving?
I’m sure there will be many questions I don’t know how to answer. But for those I can, I’ll do my best.
The last time someone called me to ask for advice about how to help a close friend who was a newly bereaved widow, I said many things but ended with this: “Your job right now is to follow the lead of the widow. If she wants to do paperwork and organize the house and stay busy, then bring your computer and your disinfectant. If she wants to lay in bed, then figure out how to download movies on your iPad and spend a few days doing just that. I don’t know what she needs, exactly, but you can take your cues from her. In fact, she may not know exactly what she wants. But hopefully you’ll be able to feel the pace at which she wants to move through the world, and you can follow suit.”
It’s not perfect advice, but the caller thanked me. It was enough to help her begin to support her widowed friend.
I’ll run this new “column” a few times a month. I’m going to call it, “Ask a Widow.” It’s my effort to try and reach outside myself and connect with others’ experiences. It’s also my effort to raise awareness about the difficult things that many widows (and other grievers) experience.
But more than anything, it’s my newest effort to make meaning of my experience.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.