This is my second attempt at this post. I didn’t realize there were a lot of gaps I left out until after I posted this the first time. So, thank you to people that have responded to the first post on here and on fb because it challenges me to be more clearer in my writing.
I think the most important place to start when caring for widows or people who are grieving is to pray as you access their particular situation. I am giving suggestions and what I have learned but each situation will be different and it is so important to let God lead in how to deal with caring for someone who is grieving. God knows what we need and what they need.
All of us who grieve, grieve differently and are in different stages of grieving. Grief hits and lights up past wounds, hurts, and insecurities in a myriad of ways. And keep in mind grieving is not linear. It is more like an ocean of waves. One minute you can feel fine the next minute you can feel horrible and as Anne Shirley would say, “in the depths of despair.” Different situations, people, songs can trigger and hit the grief when you least expect it. And even when you do expect it the grief is real and it hurts.
When Someone Feels Completely Overwhelmed and Isolated
There are times of feeling isolated and completely alone. Think of it like this image of complete darkness. This is the initial feeling I felt when Ben died and continue to feel and go back to at different times when different triggers or situations push me to face that Ben is dead. All this person sees is complete and utter darkness and when people say, “You need to get over it” that is probably the least helpful thing you can say. As painful as this stage is it is an actually a healthy thing. It is healthy to acknowledge what you are feeling and how things make you feel. Of course we don’t want to stay in this stage but being able to feel and embrace your current situation needs to happen.
Saying things like,”I’m sorry you feel this way” or ” I’ve been there” and “Thank you for telling me. I am here with you” are more helpful. Joining them in their darkness is the first step because it is validating how they are and where they are at. And it is in those moments of joining that people begin to see they are not alone.
Look at how Jesus handled people who feel completely overwhelmed. In John 11 it talks about Lazarus dying, Mary and Martha grieving, and this community around them grieving with them. What did Jesus do? He ultimately did heal Lazarus physically and that is what people usually focus on. But if you look back on the text you see this beautiful juxtaposition of ultimate healing of the heart as well. He didn’t rush the grieving or say, “Stop crying I’m going to raise your brother from the dead right now.” Instead he is “deeply moved in his spirit and distressed” (NIV). The New Living translation says, “a deep anger welled up within him and he was greatly troubled.” I love how Jesus joins in their grief and meets people where they are at. He cares so deeply for our hearts and our inner healing and grief. He sits with them and he takes on what they are feeling. Jesus cares about the physical, emotionally, mental, spiritual parts of us and our hearts and is never in a rush.
Please keep in mind that in the overwhelmed state pushing people away or not being able to be around people at times doesn’t mean they don’t want you to be there.
For me, there were just times when I couldn’t be around certain people. Not because they were mean or didn’t get grieving it’s just that I could only handle a small amount of specific people at times. So, do not get your feelings hurt if grieving people seem to push you away it may be that they need space but that doesn’t mean they want you to stay away forever. Sometimes the best you can do is just say,”I understand you need your space but know that I will be here if you ever need me.” That is helpful in two ways. It lets people know their grieving matters and let’s them know you want to help when they are ready.
A grieving person needs space AND help but on their terms and what they can handle each step of the way.
When Someone Wants To Know How To Face The World Again
There comes a point where a grieving person wants to start anew and is not feeling completely overwhelmed and realizes that life can still go on. I think what I found most helpful in my situation was to do things that were life giving that I felt would bring joy and happiness and worked for me. I love the arts, being outdoors, and being with people. So, I found ways to do those things and be with people that I knew were not going to rush me to just “get over it.” Realize entering into the world again comes in stages. Picture a huge lake with trails, mountains to hike, birds to see, ect. A grieving person may only be able to handle just opening a door and smelling outside. Then the next stage might be stepping outside the door for 10 minutes. Then they are ready to walk down to the lake and so on. Grief cannot not be rushed but people can help be guide and gently help the grieving person back to living life in stages. Letting God speak and give discernment in how to lead a grieving person in that process is so important as well.
The trick is this delicate balance of not rushing but also realize that facing life stage by stage is a good thing. The “FIRST” Christmas, birthday, Valentines, Father’s Day- the first EVERYTHING is so hard and so painful but the only way to heal and live life again is to eventually face it.
For example, Ben loved Disneyland. And we loved going there together and it was something we enjoyed together. I wasn’t sure if I could ever go to Disneyland again because there were so many memories we shared there together. The first time I went I was only able to handle just going on one thing. My family and I went on the Disneyland Railroad train. We got on in the front of the park, rode it all the way around, and then we all got off and left. I remember feeling so sad and I think I cried a little. But each time we went back it got easier and it was important to see that even though my husband is dead life could still be enjoyed. It certainly was a lot different but different is ok.
Day to Day Ways To Care For Widows and People Who are Grieving
thought I would break down things that I have found helpful in my day to day. Everyone is different and what is most meaningful to them will probably depend on their love language and particular needs. The FIRST thing you can do is to get to know THEIR love language and just ASK them. Here is my list of the most helpful things for me:
- CLEAN: It can be: dishes, vacuum the different rooms in the house, putting away dishes, laundry, help organizing the garage (I still need to finish), sweep the backyard, ect. I realize I am the worst at saying no to these kinds of things but deep down I think and know this is probably one of the most helpful things. I think the reason I say no is because I like to be independent and I feel a little embarrassed when my house is a mess or dishes are piled up. I need to take people up on this offer more and I think the more people ask the more likely I will eventually say yes. Having a clean house, car, kitchen helps me feel more relaxed and less stressed.
- COOK: Meals are always helpful! I love when the meals are already cooked or prepped to just heat up. There are times when families have invited me over to eat with them and I really enjoyed that. I also love cooking with other people. Cooking with family has taken the burden off of feeling alone or isolated. One of the hardest things since Ben died is cooking. So many good and bad memories are tied to cooking. It reminds me of something he loved to do when he wasn’t sick and something we learned to enjoy together. It reminds me of how my family and I worked hard at trying to cook something healthy when he got sick. Sharing meals or sharing the burden of cooking is so helpful.
- GIFT CARDS TO MY FAVORITE PLACES: It can be restaurants, shopping places, movie tickets, massage places, and so on. I think just being a mom in general you forget to take care of yourself because you are so busy taking care of kids or others around you. But I love when people remember that I am important too! And being widow you have even less attention at times because there isn’t a husband to give you a break, or rub your feet, or give you a big hug at the end of the day. Gift cards are nice because it is one less decision I have to make in the myriad of decisions to be made for my son and I.
- HELP AT EVENTS: Going to school, church, or group events are hard with kids. So much planning and co-ordinating goes into being around people. And adding having to go to those events without a husband is even harder. Things that are helpful: offering to get food or drinks for me or my son, playing games at the table or nearby so the I can talk to friends, help with carrying bags or purse. I think I don’t even think I need help or think people want to help until they ask. I may not always say yes but just being asked means the world to me because it helps me realize that someone noticed and someone cared enough to ask me.
- INVITATIONS TO COFFEE OR DIFFERENT PLACES I am not much of a coffee person but I love to hangout with people and just talk. It makes me feel a little more normal and it just feels good to get out of the house and to be invited somewhere. I also love to go places and go to fun events (like karaoke) especially if it’s adventurous or something with the outdoors.
- OFFER WAYS YOU LIKE TO HELP: There are many times people ask me how they can help and I really can’t think of stuff on the top of my head. I find it helpful when people are specific with how they want to help. Some people have offered: that they would love to babysit Zeke and the general times they can do it, shopping for groceries or things I need, organizing rooms or different places in the house, available if I just need to vent on the phone or process stuff. I can’t tell you how many times just being able to cry or talk about things over the phone with a friend helps me feel so much better. I actually take to heart and remember what different people say and will actually take them up on their word if the situation calls for the help they offered.
- PRAYER OR WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT: I will never turn down prayer especially if it’s in person. Prayer when I’m having a good or bad day is always helpful. Also, when people are specific in something they appreciated about me as a mom or something they admired means a lot to me. And this one means the most to me because my number one love language is words of affirmation.
- CHECKING IN WITH ME: It means a lot when people just send quick Facebook messages, texts, snail mail. It doesn’t have to be long even notes. People just saying that they are praying for me, if I need help with anything, or asking how my week went means a lot to me.
I hope that is helpful! If you are a widow or single mom leave a comment of what is helpful or meaningful to you. Please keep giving me feedback if this helps or if you want me to elaborate or expand on different areas of grieving. I feel grieving and death is so complicated and so hard to tackle at times and hard to confine to a blog post. I hope that people who are grieving remember they are never alone and there are people like me who get it or who want to learn how to get it.
Below is a picture of my son’s room. There is something about how even having one clean room brightens my day.