The death of a spouse is a profound loss. It affects life on most every level, setting off a major life transition. No two people’s needs are identical. Each person handles things in a different way. It takes a discerning heart to sense how to be most helpful. Here are some things to consider:
- Several times a day, snatch a few minutes of inner stillness to hold the new widow/widower at the center of your being.
- In addition to your ears, listen with your eyes to sense the needs of your bereaved friend or relative. If possible, try to have some alone time with them to share memories, let them talk, and draw them out. Sit still and just be present. There is no need to respond to expressions of emotions and deep feelings that may pour out from him/her. Frequently, those who have suffered such a loss feel extreme anger or remorse. S/he may need to “tell the story” again and again. Listen patiently, even though you may have heard it several times. Your role here is not to problem-solve, but to allow her/him to express whatever s/he is feeling at that moment, without judgment. And remember that each person responds in his or her own way to loss and sorrow. There is no right way or correct length of time for this phase of grief.
- Over the course of time, gradually ask yourself questions such as: Does s/he need more time to be alone and mourn in private? Does s/he need more opportunity to be with people and work through the emotional complexities of all that has unraveled? Does s/he need more quiet social companionship? Does s/he need help going through the personal possessions of the deceased? Does s/he need help getting a handle on financial matters? Does s/he need help getting ahold of legal forms and documents needed for settling the estate? Does s/he need help getting out thank you notes? Does s/he need help managing household responsibilities or property upkeep? Does s/he need an invitation to a holiday meal or to celebrate a birthday? Is s/he ready for a more active social life? Is it time for a day-trip or an overnight outing for a brief change of scenery? Might a pastoral counselor or a grief support group be right for this person?
- Do not look for immediate and decisive answers to your questions. Stay fluid and open. No individual can be all things to another person. To discern where and how you best fit into the picture, await signs of the Spirit to signal your direction. First and foremost, look for a deep calm to settle in beneath ripples of uncertainty within you. That is the peace of God, the one essential sign. A lingering sense of agitation indicates that the discernment needs more time. An inflow of energy or joy is a positive sign. As you proceed, stay attuned to the movement of the Spirit, alert to signs that may wane or new signs that may arise. Follow the flow of the Spirit.
If possible, recruit a few of your friends who are spiritually inclined to gather on some sort of a regular basis to help you with this discernment.
- A new widow/widower may be considering changes that require discernment such as: a move from their current home or a major geographic relocation; a change in lifestyle precipitated by financial or emotional considerations; choice of advisors (legal, financial, etc.); new relationships that may include dating/courting. As their friend or relative you may have strong opinions about their choices. However, we can never know for sure what is best for another person. Be cautious about your unsolicited advice. Even if your perception is right, such advice often is not well received and can set up barriers to future communication. In the event your advice is requested, be a calm, caring listener and encourage the conversation in a way that allows the person to consider the pros and cons in a healthy way and arrive at his or her own decision after more discernment.
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready, my God, Thy will to see;
Open my heart, illumine me,
– words by Charles H. Scott from the hymn “Open My Eyes”