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Practical Help for the Hurting

widow-of-great-warDo you know someone who has recently suffered some kind of tragedy or loss?  I know it can be hard to know what to or not to say or do.  This will be written from the perspective of a woman who’s just lost her husband, but this also pertains to a husband who’s just lost a wife or parents who have lost a child or their own parents.

Having recently suffered the loss of my precious husband and being left financially destitute I can tell you what has and has not helped me.

1) DO NOT tell her to call you if she ever needs anything. She never will.  She won’t remember who said it.  She won’t know what kinds of things you could or would be able or willing to do & so won’t EVER call you. Ever.  It isn’t that help isn’t needed for IT IS.  But the offer is too broad, too general and she is not in a state of mind to remember.

Initially she is in shock.  Shock plays havoc with the brain rendering her unable to remember simple things and the days pass by in a blur.  Getting out of bed is – a chore.  Getting dinner on the table is a challenge.  Simple everyday things are now mountains to scale.  Memory is a thing of the past she wishes would return!  Alas… even simple everyday things are too soon forgotten – and can even be a hazard to herself/home/family.  We’ll not talk about the numerous times I ~could have~ burned down the house… just trying to reheat my tea on the stove…

Instead let her know what kinds of things you can and would be able to do AND WRITE IT DOWN ON A CARD FOR HER: fill the car with gasoline, cook a meal, rake &/or mow the lawn, weed the garden area, shovel the sidewalk & driveway, clean the gutters, help her with the taxes, take a load to the dump, help organize a room/the books/the garage, help inventory what’s in the freezer and plan some simple crock pot meals with what’s already on hand (things that don’t require anything more than opening the bag and dumping into the crock pot… sauteing onions is beyond impossible…), 

2) go to all the hard appointments that are coming up (Social Security, VA, insurance, etc) where they have to go over and over and over and over the same information ~ he’s dead ~ he’s dead ~ he’s dead. It’s draining.

3) Show up in a few weeks and just take her out to lunch and let her talk about her husband. I long ~ LONG ~ to hear someone speak about Robert or would just let me talk about him and how much I miss him.

4) help her establish a budget and figure out how to pay the bills. He may have been doing all this and she has no clue, or she could have been doing this and if he lost her he’d have no clue. THIS IS A BIGGIE!!

5) offer to help her write thank you notes.

6) get her a notebook (something medium-sized and pretty (or masculine for a guy) to keep track of what’s been donated/gifted and what needs a TY note. SET IT UP FOR HER with column lines and category titles on the first few pages. Don’t ask, just go buy her some thank you notes, a pretty pen and some stamps. You will be her hero. Another possibility is to help her set up a box (cover it in butcher paper or something pretty) to keep the cards in with some kind of divider for the ones that have had a TY sent and the ones that have not. I highly recommend a lidded something ~ my box got dumped over and I had to attempt to figure out what got a TY and what didn’t’. I do not recommend keeping track on the computer. The last thing you want to do is go turn on the stupid machine when you are in the other room and ready to write a TY note that is long over due.  Show up in a month or two or seven afterwards JUST to help with Thank You notes.

7) make sure she is taking care of herself. Regular meals, regular showers, getting out of the house, exercise, etc.  Is she supposed to take supplements?  Help get them organized so they are easy to take and easy to remember (they might need to be kept IN sight… as there is no memory right now…).  Or a list on the cabinet door might be helpful.

8) DO NOT EVER PUSH her to make a hard decision that isn’t *necessary* (that should read critical) right now. Something about the funeral will HAVE to be made now. What to do with his clothing IS NOT critical right now. Neither is it a critical thing to take his name off the car title… unless she is selling it tomorrow.

9) help with painting the inside or outside of the house

10) help in locating repairmen for furnaces, appliances, vehicles as well as helping her establish some kind of regular maintenance for these things.  Has she ever used a Home Management binder?  Maybe help her set one up with maintenance for appliances and home things on there.  She may not have a clue what should be done and when or how often.

11) help in purchasing a new appliance or vehicle.  There are plenty of nefarious folks who love to prey on the helpless, uninformed widow.

12) computer help with software problems. You don’t have to be an expert. But when someone is in shock (and it can last a whole lot longer than we’d like to think or have to slog through) the brain just doesn’t function. Figuring out that the stupid thing isn’t plugged in fully might just be beyond one’s ability to cope right now. Having someone come to help WITHOUT judging her inability is priceless.

13) offer to help organize the kitchen, living room, garage, garden tools, books, office, bedroom, whatever. NOT with the idea of helping her get rid of anything but to help with the clutter. I know I can’t be the only one with it. DO NOT JUDGE. Make NO comment to anyone else EVER about what was or was not organized. It will get back to her (ask me how I know). Those kinds of things are not helpful and hurt. Needlessly hurt. When one is overwhelmed, it can be helpful for someone else to come in and help, NOT to judge. When you’ve lived with the mess for so long… you over look it and just move through it as best you can. True confessions here.  Thinking you’ll help her establish new cleaning routines is not for the initial aftermath.  She can barely get a shower… or out of bed… address something like this in a year or earlier if she asks.

14) offer to help her lay out the pros and cons of big decisions and *IF* they even need to be made right now. It is highly recommended that one who has just suffered a tremendous loss NOT make any big decisions that are not critical to be made for at least a year so that there are not regrets about those decisions later. It’s too easy to make a hasty decision, especially if you feel pushed by well meaning friends, that you WILL regret later.

15) IF you are going to offer her advice make sure YOU have studied God’s word for yourself first on the issue.  Not some time in the past but RECENTLY.  Yes it will take you a bit of time to do.  Offering un-biblical advice to the recently bereaved is unwise at best and unrighteous at worst.  DO NOT read *into* what the bible says but find out what the bible does say.  Monergism.org is a great resource to find sermons and articles on a plethora of subjects.  This topic will be a longer post soon for I have been given an abundance of un-biblical advice.

Just a quick “should I give this advice?” check ~ if you cannot find  bible verses to support what you are advising ~ STOP.   AND if that advice contradicts other principles &/or bible verses ~ STOP.  More study is imperative!

16) do not ever think that a sympathy card sent in a few weeks or even a few months later is bad manners.  It is NOT bad manners.  Getting a sympathy card anytime is letting her know you care.  Getting a sympathy card with a short hand written note is precious.  Did you know her husband?  A short note sharing a fun memory or how he impacted your life would be priceless.  You are not writing a novel or article for publication but a personal memory to the widow ~ and she will be overjoyed to receive it.  Are you the organized type?  Send her a card every month on the anniversary of her beloved’s death letting her know you are praying for her.

The same things can be said for a phone call except for the personal remembrance (that would be better written so she can save it).  Everyone is there in the initial aftermath.  Don’t get me wrong.  I was thankful for the initial phone calls, visits, help, cards.  But after that first week…  then there was ~ nothing.  Everyone has returned to their own lives and the widow is left alone, bereft, penniless, and in great need ~ and no one calls, sends notes, stops by.

17) When you see the recent widow in person don’t think you need to have some wise thing to say.  A hug goes a LONG way.  Don’t worry that something you say will cause her to cry.  She’ll cry no matter if you say anything or not!  Tears are healthy.  Tears are necessary.  Today’s society doesn’t like tears.  Everyone is supposed to be ~happy~ but life isn’t always that way.  Tears, loss, anguish, pain are also a very real part of the human experience since Adam ate that fruit.  Acknowledging that she is hurting is helpful.  Talk about her recently departed husband tell her a story about your interaction with him.  She longs to hear about him.  He’ll always be a part of her life and not talking about him or changing the subject if his name is mentioned is hurtful ~ bordering on cruelty.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful.  This is by no means an exhaustive list.  If you are stumped at how to help, pray and ask the Lord to give you an idea.  He’ll do that for you if you listen.  He’s creative like that!

Blessings, Aunt Mae

This post linked up here: Yes They Are All Ours, Inspire Me Monday, My Joy Filled Life, A Proverbs 31 Wife, Mom’s The Word, Far Above Rubies, Heavenly Homemaker, Time Warp Wife, Teaching what is Good, Raising Homemakers, Create With Joy, Wise Woman Link-Up, Walking Redeemed, A Little R & R, Some Day Crafts, Winsome Wednesday, We Are THAT Family, Woman 2 Woman, Cozy Reading Spot, Raising Mighty Arrows, Graced Simplicity, Hope In Every Season

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{ 14 comments… add one }

  • Pam February 12, 2014, 7:37 PM

    Thank you for sharing your insights about this subject. I know it comes from your heart and it will be a blessing to everyone who reads it. Having been through some of my own grief, I know it will be helpful to those who want to be a help.

    • ~Aunt Mae (~Mrs. R) February 13, 2014, 11:57 AM

      Hi Pam,
      Thank you for your kind comments. I pray that this is helpful to others!

  • Terri February 12, 2014, 8:41 PM

    Thank you for the great tips. I struggle with what to say/do in these situations so often don’t do anything. So sorry you lost your precious hubby. Praying for you!

    • ~Aunt Mae (~Mrs. R) February 13, 2014, 11:58 AM

      Hi Terri,
      I completely understand the struggle! I too struggled with what to and not to do until I was on the receiving end.
      Your prayers on our behalf our precious to us!

  • Charlotte Moore February 14, 2014, 7:18 AM

    Such a good post to help people that do not know what to do. Years ago a tragic accident happened to a family in our community. He had 4 sweet little girls that went to our school. Around a week I guess after the funeral I took them a meal. It was cold and they lived in a big country farm house. When I got there water was in the kitchen and she had just gotten in from work. Had 4 little ones to think of too. Best I can remember I helped clean up the water and left their meal for them. She was so overwhelmed when I got there. I was so glad I went when I did even though I was not sure what to do. We never know!!!

    • ~Aunt Mae (~Mrs. R) February 15, 2014, 7:23 PM

      Yes Charlotte it is so true we never do know! I am sure she remembers with a thankful heart your being there to help when she needed someone.

  • Machelle February 16, 2014, 2:37 PM

    I have known numerous families who have lost children. I have learned many of the things you have written about over the years. It is good information that lets people do the practical things they want to do but just don’t know what or how to do them. Thanks for sharing as this type of info keeps people from being paralyzed when interacting with someone experiencing grief.

    Valentine’s Day: A Change in Perspective

    • ~Aunt Mae (~Mrs. R) February 17, 2014, 11:31 PM

      Thank you for stopping by to leave a comment!

  • Elizabeth Ours February 18, 2014, 8:31 AM

    WOW! Just Wow! This was so helpful! Thanks for sharing your heart and for linking up for Marriage Monday!

    • ~Aunt Mae (~Mrs. R) February 18, 2014, 10:13 AM

      Thank you for your kind words Elizabeth! Love your blog.

  • Marissa D February 19, 2014, 8:20 AM

    Beautifully written, it hard to be on either side, but a list to go to in order to really actually help is great. Thank you for sharing


    • ~Aunt Mae (~Mrs. R) February 19, 2014, 5:01 PM

      Thank you for your kind words! I remember being on the *other side* wanting to offer comfort and not always sure *what* I could or should do. Being in *this side* I thought it would be helpful to others!

  • Dawn M. (5forjesus) April 8, 2015, 7:29 PM

    Thank you for sharing your heart. There are very practical tips here. Many of which I needed to be reminded of. I, like others, have been on both sides of grief. One of the greatest helps to me after losing our infant is those that speak his name and remember his anniversary. Our Josiah has been gone for 15 years now, but there are still a few that remember his anniversary with us. When dealing with a person who is grieving, please don’t ever say “aren’t you over that yet?” No, no, they will NEVER get over losing their loved one until they are reunited with them in Heaven (if applicable). I have “JOY” signs all over my house to remind me daily to “Choose JOY”. It doesn’t come naturally.

    • ~Aunt Mae (~Mrs. R) April 20, 2015, 6:20 PM

      Thank you for sharing Dawn!! Before I was in the place of grieving a loved one who had died I know I didn’t minister to their hurts like I could have! Then being on the receiving end of some unintended hurtful things made this post one that just had to be written!! It certainly isn’t comprehensive in scope, but there are a lot of things that can be used to minister to anyone grieving the loss of a loved one.

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