Last week marked eight years since my first husband, Jarronn, passed away. Each year, as the date approaches, I do a lot of reflecting. Not so much about Jarronn — I still think about him regularly, regardless of the time of year. But more so about what it was like for me to go through such an earth-shattering loss. The shock. The depths of my grief. The blurry moments of trying to pick up the pieces.
Along with all of that, I can’t help but also think about the gestures made by others that helped me walk through it all. The anniversary of Jarronn’s death marks a time of deep sadness, but it also marks a time when I experienced kindness from other people in a way I never had before.
I’m sure many of these people had little experience with supporting a 20-something widow, and honestly, some of the clichés and nice Christian sayings were an indicator of that. But people tried, and I was grateful.
Death is a certainty, and our need to support hurting people after they’ve lost a loved one is a reality. When it’s your turn to be there for a friend or family member who is grieving, here’s what I suggest:
Meet a tangible need.
It’s become commonplace to tell a grieving person to “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” But most people overwhelmed by grief don’t have the mental space to make a list of all of their needs and dole out requests. Or there are very real things that they need, but they don’t feel comfortable asking. Or there are things that would be ever so helpful, but until it’s provided, it never crosses their mind.
Instead of putting the burden on the grieving person to tell you what would be helpful, consider offering to meet a tangible need. For me, this looked like a lot of people (some who I hadn’t spoken to in years) making a schedule to bring me dinner every other night for six weeks. It looked like my closest guy friends getting on my calendar to fix things around my house and trim the front hedges. It looked like my best girl friend calling me every morning at 7:00 a.m. to talk about our previous days, but really to make sure I had the motivation to get out of bed for work in the morning. And it looked like the friends who sent flowers to my job on Valentine’s Day (seven months after Jarronn passed), so I’d remember how much I was loved. I can think of a ton of additional ways to meet tangible needs, in the form of gift cards to favorite restaurants/delivery service, an offer to watch the person’s children, paying for a cleaning service, helping to write thank you cards, or dealing with a challenging piece of paperwork. The most important thing is to offer up something tangible, instead of the ambiguous, noncommittal “let me know what I can do.”
Ask questions/talk about the person.
I found one of the hardest parts about my late husband’s death was that it felt like the world just kept moving, even while this monumental shift in our lives had just taken place. And with each day that passed, I knew I was getting further away from the experiences I’d had with him. Some people seemed uncertain about whether or not I wanted to talk about him, but talking about him was the closest thing I had to him being alive. So I was all about answering questions about him or things we’d done together. I was all about hearing other people tell their favorite stories about times they’d shared with him. I still love it eight years later.
A friend who was also widowed suddenly in her 20’s maintains a tradition where she gathers her late husband’s friends together annually, and everyone shares stories about him. It’s an awesome way to keep his memory and legacy alive.
If you’ve ever felt at a loss for words when talking to someone who’s grieving, perhaps try talking less and instead asking more questions about the person they’re missing.
Give space for them to grieve in their own way.
Grief looks different for everyone. In fact, writing this post prompted me and Jordan (also widowed in his 20’s) to talk about what we found most helpful after our spouses died, and we got into a
argument tense discussion over the best things to say to a widowed person. The truth is, there’s no silver bullet, and the grieving process looks different for everyone.
Some people will laugh sooner than you might expect. Others will be melancholy for longer than you’d hope. Some will wear their grief on their sleeve, while others will choose to shed their tears while in the privacy of their car. In addition to grief often looking different for each person, it also doesn’t always follow a linear path — I remember going stretches of time without crying but then falling apart and feeling like I was back to square one. This is why I love the suggestion that we should ask the grieving, “How are you doing today?” instead of just “How are you doing?” It gives space for the very varied, complex experience that comes with grieving the loss of a loved one.
Send reminders of your care months after the loss.
Immediately following the loss, there’s typically an onslaught of calls, cards, flowers, etc. But six weeks later, a lot of those gestures have stopped. Things get quiet. The world keeps spinning. So it means a lot when someone sends a card two months later. Or someone remembers your loved one’s birthday three years later. It reminds the person that they’re still on your mind. For me, it also cut down on the amount of isolation I felt — I was thinking about my late husband all the time, so when I got a card or text months later, I felt comfort in knowing other people were still thinking about him too.
Last week, on the anniversary of my late husband’s death, one of my dearest girl friends sent me a text message that simply said, “I love you. (insert really tight squeezing hug).” It might not seem like much, but her acknowledging how complex of a day it was, how complex the past eight years have been, meant the world to me. A simple “I love you,” can go a long way when other words seem to fall short.
I certainly think meeting tangible needs should be coupled with prayer whenever possible. And yet, I can only imagine that so much of the strength and endurance I found in the time after becoming widowed was due to the hundreds of people praying for me. Some who I knew really well and others I had never met (little did I know my future/current husband even prayed for me years before we’d meet). Those collective prayers gave me the steadiness I needed to keep walking through life. And now, when I tell someone who is grieving that I’m praying for them, I take it seriously, knowing that there’s real power in praying on someone’s behalf, often when they’re unable to muster the prayers on their own. Pray for strength, for comfort, for healthy grieving, for patience, for met needs, for beauty from the ashes, for hope.
What would you add to this list? Is there something someone did for you that was really helpful in the aftermath of losing someone you loved?