I recently was asked during a radio interview to summarize my advice to the friends and family of a widower on what to say or not say to them. The following are some highlights of our conversation.
WHAT TO SAY TO A NEW WIDOWER
I often recommend you start off by asking the widower to tell their story (both their wife’s story and their own) – ask questions that prompt them to tell their story, such as:
- How did you meet?
- What made her special?
- How and when did she pass?
Widowers need to tell their story. It honors their wife every time they do. They heal just a little bit every time they tell their story. I must have told mine a couple hundred times the first year after losing Theresa, my wife of 45 years.
If you (a friend or family member) have a story about their wife to share with them, go ahead and share it. We widowers love to hear funny stories about our wives that remind us of her special traits that made her a unique and special human. We also love to hear moving stories about something special she did for others, it lets us know that others loved her too.
WHAT NOT TO SAY TO NEW WIDOWER
Many comments can be insensitive. Don’t be one of those people that says:
- You or your wife somehow deserved this
- You did not pray enough
- Don’t be sad, just be happy
- Everything happens for a reason – it will all be o.k. in the end
- Grieving lasts just a while, you will be stronger for it
If you cannot think of something positive or supportive to say, just don’t say anything at all. We don’t need anyone else’s self-righteousness, or personal life philosophy. In these times of heightened anxiety and stress too many people are ready to go negative and feed our self-doubts and guilt. Keep that to yourself and leave us alone if that is your approach.
Also, don’t just thoughtlessly ask, “How are you doing.” Widowers know that in most cases you really don’t want to know and are praying that we don’t answer that question honestly. We often want to say something like, “I feel like crap! Do you really want to know how I feel?”
WHAT I TELL NEW WIDOWERS
When I first meet a new widower, I will usually try to provide support by telling them:
- You are NOT going crazy
- What you are going through is normal
- Expect there to be both physical & emotional pain for months if not a year or more
- You will often feel like you are losing control, this too is normal
- You may feel like half of your self has been ripped away from you
- You may not know who you are anymore, and may have to reinvent yourself in order to heal
I hope this provides you and your family and friends with fodder for consideration. Feel free to share this with them, and please provide feedback if you think I missed anything or could have said something differently.
© Copyright 2021 Fred Colby
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