We’ve all faced moments when tempted to give up resuming a normal life after suffering a significant loss. Sometimes, it may hurt too much to keep moving forward. Regaining a sense of purpose seems nearly impossible. We feel guilty choosing to live a happy, fulfilled life when our loved one has died.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Practical Ways to Help a Grieving Surviving Spouse
- Tips for Helping a Younger Grieving Surviving Spouse
- Tips for Helping an Older Surviving Spouse
Losing a spouse is reminiscent of one of those times when you want to hide out from the rest of the world. It’s easier to sit home wallowing alone in your grief rather than facing others who mean well but don’t necessarily know how to comfort you.
If you’re wondering how to help a grieving widow or widower as they experience the heartbreak of losing a spouse, the following might help you better support a loved one going through this situation.
Practical Ways to Help a Grieving Surviving Spouse
People deal with grief in many ways. Many times, getting through the pain and sorrow takes strength and courage. Helping someone cope through the profound pain and sadness of losing a spouse goes beyond offering small talk or bringing a thoughtful gift for the surviving spouse.
Becoming someone they can count on for support will help a grieving spouse get through some of the most challenging moments of their suffering.
1. Bring food
In the first few days following such a significant loss, you can expect a grieving surviving spouse not to be able to get out of bed, bathe, eat, or speak of their deceased spouse in any meaningful way. The pain and sadness of their overwhelming sorrow will overtake their senses, and they may forget to do even the most basic of things.
You can help someone who’s grieving their spouse’s death by bringing a week’s worth of prepared food that they can store in their freezer for whenever they do remember to eat.
2. Talk to them
People automatically say they’re sorry for your loss because they don’t know what to say to a grieving widow or widower. You may want to provide comfort to someone who’s lost their spouse but don’t know how to do it or what to say. Talking to a grieving spouse is as much about listening as it is knowing the right things to say.
When words fail you, consider giving them a sympathy card expressing your condolences or reading together aloud from books for surviving spouses. Reading about love and loss can be a great conversation starter that’ll help you two have helpful and meaningful conversations. Books on grief are also a good companion for a widow to have on hand for those lonely moments when it’s hard to fall asleep.
3. Suggest ways to help
Help a grieving spouse establish a routine to help get them by from hour to hour and day by day. Go through the list together and write it down on a tangible piece of paper so that they can physically see it and keep track of what they’re supposed to be doing and when. A written to-do list serves as a reminder to keep moving forward despite their debilitating pain and sorrow.
After the first few days and weeks following their spouse’s death, their life will seem like a blur. Help them remember what to do and where they need to be as they deal with their loss.
Tips for Helping a Younger Grieving Surviving Spouse
The needs of a younger grieving widow or widower are different than someone who’s lost their spouse later in life. With young children at home needing tending, the mortgage needing to be paid, and an income that’s been suddenly cut from the budget, surviving physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially can be a struggle for a young surviving spouse.
4. Help around the house
Volunteer to take care of specific chores around the house, including handling the household expenses, the mowing of the yard, and washing the dishes. You’ll want to ensure that all of the essential bills are paid, such as the mortgage, utilities, internet, and insurance. You’ll also want to discuss or gain access to the family’s household budget and finances to help with these tasks.
It’s easy to overlook paying the bills, especially when grieving the loss of a spouse. Volunteering your time to help manage the household is one of the best things you can do for a younger grieving spouse whose debilitating sorrow has left them unable to act.
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5. Help with the children
Offer to take the kids out for an afternoon of fun. Maybe even consider an overnight sleepover at your house to give the surviving spouse a time to be alone with their grief or whatever they may need the time for. The added responsibilities of a newly widowed spouse can be overwhelming.
Taking care of the children on top of trying to cope with their loss may prove to be too much for them so soon after experiencing such a significant loss. Consider asking others to help take turns stepping in and caring for the children. Don’t forget that the children are also grieving their parent or step-parent loss even if they may not show any outward signs of grief.
6. Offer respite from duties
Offering to help with responsibilities associated with running a smooth household will do wonders for a recently widowed spouse. They may be having difficulty coping with their loss and managing all of their responsibilities on top of it. A respite from duties doesn’t just include help with doing things around the house.
It can consist of helping with running their business, carpooling the children, calling on doctors and bosses to report the death, or anything else needing attention. Other things to consider are ongoing court cases, calling the insurance companies, and making funeral arrangements.
7. Offer your company
Sometimes all someone needs are good company and a shoulder to lean on to help get them through their day. Usually, after the funeral, people stop calling and offering their help and condolences. They take a step back to let the widow or widower take the time they need to process their grief.
Giving someone time to grieve or process their grief alone is a myth made up by a society with trouble talking about and dealing with death. The bereaved spouse continues to need others’ presence and support for weeks, even months, following their spouse’s death.
Tips for Helping an Older Surviving Spouse
Older widowed spouses have a different set of needs altogether. The longer they live, some surviving spouses expect that eventually, one will die, leaving the other widowed. They start preparing for when this day comes by having all of their financial affairs in order and by steeling themselves against the pain of their future loss. In essence, they start the grieving process in anticipation of losing their spouse.
These are some ways you can help lessen their burden as they deal with their loss.
8. Offer to make arrangements
An older spouse may suffer unanticipated grief that leaves them despondent and unable to take care of making individual decisions.
Grief affects men and women alike. Don’t assume that a widower can handle everything after losing what may have been the love of their life. Ask if you can help call the funeral home, obtain death certificates, locate life insurance policies, and find a lawyer for any estate issues.
9. Help them connect with others
When friends and family stop calling and life resumes, this is usually when an older surviving spouse begins to feel the emptiness and void left behind by their spouse’s death. After the unbearable pain of losing their spouse subsides and the loneliness sets in, a widowed spouse may be too embarrassed to admit that they need the company of others or that they’re ready to start dating again.
Help them join an online support group for surviving spouses and teach them how to access them and interact within the group.
10. Teach them to manage on their own
Some widows and widowers who have been married for years may have relied on their deceased spouse to take care of all the household bills and daily maintenance of the home. They may not know where to begin in doing these things on their own.
Consider calling ahead to see when it’s a good time to come over to teach them how to pay bills and how to keep track of their income and expenses. Do a few follow-ups to ensure that they have the process down and can manage on their own.
11. Check up on them
Checking up on an older widow or widower can help them not to feel so lonely. You may want to go out together for a meal or spend an evening together to see a movie.
That’ll allow the widowed spouse to leave the house to alleviate some of the loneliness that may lead to depression. Remember to call in now and then to ask how they’re doing and if they feel like talking.
Offering Help to a Grieving Widow
The experiences of grieving and widowhood are not without hope. Over time, there’s hope that the grief and sadness will lift, leaving in its wake a new and different life for those left behind. Getting through their loss will take time. One day they’ll wake up and realize that they’re OK and that they’ve made it through.
The journey and the time it takes for someone to get through their grief is different for everyone.