Grief is personal and sometimes looks as different on each person experiencing loss as the person herself. When the man she loved is gone forever, your friendship may be the only thing keeping your girlfriend going day after day. There is not a college degree or course that fully prepares us for how grief takes over. Here are a few insights of how to support a friend who has lost a spouse – to be a friend when a girlfriend has lost her husband or partner.
Stages of Grief Is Not a Checklist – You have probably heard that grief has stages, but these stages are not a checklist that once done, it’s done. Rather, grief meanders through emotions and sometimes grips us when we think we have moved beyond that phase. Usually, the early stages include mostly shock or disbelief. Even when a spouse has suffered a long illness or has lived a long and fulfilling life, she still won’t be ready for his life to be over. Eventually, she will go through some heavy-duty emotions including depression, anger, fear, and guilt. She will probably feel isolated and completely alone at times.
After the Flowers Fade – Initially, friends and family gather. There is a funeral or a memorial service, flowers and food provided by well-meaning supporters. The widow most likely won’t feel the complete sting of her loss during this initial onslaught of attention and affection. In fact, she may feel a boost of love while she puts her new reality on hold for the sake of the crowds. It’s after the gatherings are over and the crowds thin that the true need for a supportive friend will kick in.
Remember Special Occasions – After the crowds of friends and family have dwindled, that is the time to show up at her door with a meal, send a special note or arrange to go out to a movie or dinner together. Be sure to also remember her especially during the first year on every special occasion, like his birthday, their anniversary, possibly Father’s Day, Christmas or Hannukah, and New Year’s Eve.
Be on Call – It’s not just special occasions and holidays that will bring to mind memories that bring on the tears. Sometimes, a memory will hit her out of the blue and unexpected. A smell of his aftershave, a weekend spent alone, or even an unsuspecting comment will send her into an emotional flood. It’s these moments that she will need you most, but how are you to know when she is most in need of a friend? The best thing to do is to check in on her often and ask how she’s feeling. Then, offer what you can to help.
Just be There – Don’t try to make things right. Don’t try to find the right words to say. Certainly, don’t offer advice. There are no right words. She sometimes will just need someone to be there, to listen and maybe offer a hug or shoulder to cry on without judgment, advice, or the need to even speak.
Talk about Him – Allow her the freedom to remember, and don’t be afraid to laugh with her without judgment or shock at the things that may make her crack a smile when she remembers him. When you bring him up in conversation, use his name.
Help with Duties He Used to Perform – You obviously can’t step into the shoes of her husband entirely, but you can offer to assist her to events where her husband would normally attend by her side, like weddings or other functions. Additionally, some of the biggest struggles with pain occur when daily life goes on, and things that he used to do begins to need attention. For instance, if he used to change the oil in the car, pay the bills or care for the lawn, when it comes time for these chores to get done, she may have great difficulty finding the strength to do them herself, not because she is incapable of doing them but because they remind her of him. Ask what he used to handle in their relationship, and make arrangements for these tasks to be done for her.
Pay Close Attention to Signs of Depression or Suicide – Sometimes the pain of the grief feels overwhelming and too much to bear. When this happens, a healthy grieving process can go downhill fast. Look for signs of depression and get help if she begins to appear overly hopeless, lethargic, or talks about suicide.
A Few Don’ts About Grief – While knowing what to do is helpful, there are some things that are more hurtful than helpful for your grieving friend:
- Don’t set a time limit on her grief.
- Don’t assume you know how she feels.
- Don’t compare grief to yours or others. Everyone grieves differently.
- Don’t rush her to resolve her grief too soon. While some women adjust faster than others to their new normal, she will never simply get over it. Even those who move forward with life in a healthy emotional manner will experience an occasional setback.
- Don’t give unsolicited advice.
- Don’t chatter on about your own experiences.
- Don’t assume you know how she feels
- Don’t ever say, “I know how you feel.”
- Don’t use any statement that begins with “you should” or impose flippant remarks, such as “Look at what you have to be thankful for”, “Be strong”, “You’ll get remarried someday”, “It’s part of God’s plan”, “He’s in a better place”, “Now that this is behind you, get on with your life.”
- Don’t try to fix it! Grief is not a problem that needs to be fixed, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
While you can’t put your own life on hold completely, be ready to offer a listening ear even in the middle of the night or inopportune, inconvenient times.
If you are still at a loss as to how to comfort and offer support, ask her what she needs, and take the initiative to offer what you are able to do. Does she need help with funeral arrangements? Does she need someone to stay with her in her home for awhile? Does she need help with the housework, laundry or dishes? Does she need someone to watch her kids so she can be by herself? Does she need help going through his things for closure? Does she need help organizing insurance papers or paying medical bills? Does she need help with her pets? Does she need someone to drive her to where she needs to go? Does she need to go out to lunch or to a movie? Does she need someone to share a movie or a game night at her house? Does she need everybody to just leave her alone for awhile? Or, does she need a hug or someone to just physically be there? Does she need someone to shop for groceries or run errands? Do what you can. Just be there for your friend – as you know she would do for you! Now is a great time to be the supportive, caring friend she needs!
More from our ‘How to be a Better Friend – especially in Difficult Time / Situations’ series:
How to be a better friend to a girlfriend dealing with divorce
That’s why we’re here – to inspire you to BE A BETTER FRIEND – even, and especially, when life hands you or a girlfriend tough situations.
COMFORTING GIFTS FOR FRIENDS: HEALING BASKETS provides gifts to comfort and support the broken hearted. From sympathy, and loss to cancer, get well, divorce and caregiving. These gifts encourage, comfort and inspire.
What other tough situations would you like us to cover on Girlfriendology? PLEASE SHARE below!
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