Losing a partner is an extremely emotional time. If you have a friend who recently lost his or her partner, you’re likely looking for ways to show your love and support. However, there are some things you might be doing or saying that could make a difficult situation even worse.
Keisha Blair, co-founder of Aspire-Canada and Founder of the soon-to-be-launched website The Modern Widow, was on the receiving end of her share of blunders when she was widowed at the young age of 31, eight weeks after giving birth to her second son. “I realized that young widows lack the support they need because of their specialized needs. Many people don’t know what to say or how to say it. Statements like ‘he’s in a better place,’ when a young spouse is left behind with young babies can sound like an insult,” said Blair.
Do you have a friend who recently lost a spouse? Here are seven blunders you might be making.
Talking about your happy relationship
Your friend is mourning the loss of his or her partner, so the last thing you should do right now is talk about how happy you are in your relationship. Although you might be attempting to give your friend some hope about the future, this is not the way to do it.
Audrey Hope, a relationship expert and addictions specialist at Seasons in Malibu, said it’s important to think before you speak and not do anything that would make you unhappy if it were done to you. “Be unselfish and put yourself in their shoes for just a moment, and imagine what you would need. Your friend [might not be able to] endure hearing of other’s happiness or trips, or romantic moments. Steer clear of talking about what is working in your world. You can really support your friend by just being there, and being near them,” said Hope.
Saying you understand how your friend feels
Even if you’ve also lost a spouse, you can’t truly know how your friend feels. It’s understandable that you’re searching for ways to show empathy, but this isn’t the best way to do it. Making this statement will most likely come off as an insincere attempt to make your friend feel better. You can’t possibly know how your friend feels because you are not him or her. If you don’t know what to say, sometimes it’s best to sit silently with your friend. Physically being present is often all that is needed.
Telling your friend to call you
At a time like this, you should be the one making the calls. Your friend is likely too overwhelmed by grief to even think of picking up a phone right now. Don’t leave it up to him or her to reach out and make the first contact. Licensed Professional Counselor Michele Moore suggests being proactive. “Don’t say, ‘call me if you need me. I’m here for you!’ The best way to support someone is to proactively reach out. Many times, the grieving party is too depressed or unfocused to reach out and ask for help but is very grateful when a friend offers to come over and just sit or visit the spouse’s grave site together,” advised Moore.
Saying ‘your spouse is in a better place’
This is probably the worst thing you could say to a grieving friend. Don’t comment on where his or her spouse is or the fact that he or she won’t have to suffer anymore. It’s best to leave comments about the afterlife out of your conversation, as this could be upsetting during a time like this. Licensed Professional Counselor Kayce Hodos said statements like this could be abrasive. “Even if your friend is spiritual and believes in an afterlife, they’re in pain because they miss their spouse, not because they’re afraid their loved one is in some kind of purgatory. This kind of statement is even more hurtful if your friend is not spiritual. Furthermore, these kinds of platitudes can come across as preachy, and it just isn’t what a friend needs,” advised Hodos.
Telling your friend their spouse wouldn’t want them to be sad
Losing a spouse is a sad event. For most people, it’s only natural to feel some kind of sadness during a time like this. You should not tell someone how to feel. He or she has every right to cry, scream, yell, and do whatever needs to be done to feel some sense of peace or relief (as long as the behavior is not hurting them or others). “Your friend is grieving, and grief is sad. Don’t tell them how to feel. They should be angry, sad, or whatever. If they’re crying a lot, they should be. If they aren’t crying, that’s OK, too. They may be still be in shock or numb from the whole experience. Whether the death was a sudden accident or the result of a long illness, your friend loves and misses their spouse all the same,” said Hodos.
Acting like the death never happened
Another thing you might be tempted to do is to act like everything is OK. You might do this because you think it will only upset your friend if you bring up the death, but this could have the opposite effect. You don’t have to constantly remind your friend of what happened, but acknowledging the death and offering your support shows you are available to offer a shoulder to lean on if needed. “The lack of acknowledgement from friends and acquaintances can cause even more pain. There are very practical ways of helping a friend going through loss or grief. Offer to help in very practical ways, like bringing over a meal, offering to go to the grocery store, helping around the house, and supporting any young children involved,” said Blair.
If you or a friend recently lost a spouse, there are plenty of resources available to help you weather the storm. Here are some tools that can give you the information you need to move forward.
Online Resources and Events
- A Widow’s Guide to Healing
- On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss
- Widows Wear Stilettos
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