Well, it’s now been over 1 year since my husband, Chaz, passed away.
Like I mentioned in my One Year of Loss post, I just can not find the right words to describe how I feel about that.
Despite that, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on the past year.
In the weeks immediately following his passing, people would ask “How can I help?” or “What do you need?” But at the time, those questions seemed impossible to answer. There wasn’t a single person that could give me what I needed, because what I needed was my husband back!
And unfortunately, that was not going to happen…
Although it’s not as often anymore, I am still occasionally asked those same questions. And they really haven’t become that much easier to answer on the spot. It’s still incredibly difficult to accept help when offered. And it’s ever harder to actually ask for help when it’s needed.
But I’m learning. I mentioned in my last Monday Mourning Widow Series post about Bad Days that I’m coming to terms with the fact that I can’t do it all. And that it actually shows courage to ask for help when I need it. So even though it’s tough to do, I have gotten better at requesting specific things when they come up, like needing my dishwasher fixed, our car’s oil changed, or some yard work done. But there still doesn’t seem to be much I can anticipate in advance.
So, even though I’m getting better at asking for help, even after 1 year, I still feels impossible to answer when someone asks, “What do you need?”
Instead, I’m going to reflect back on the past year and think about what I occasionally wanted/needed. At the time, I was too afraid to speak up or ask, so of course I didn’t get them. To an outsider, they may seem silly or selfish, and they probably weren’t even things that I had in my “before life!” But with a trauma like losing a spouse unexpectedly at a very young age, sometimes these silly things were needed in order to remain sane.
Hopefully, by sharing these now, it will provide a little insight on how to help if you encounter someone who suddenly finds herself in a situation similar to mine.
5+ Ideas to Help a Young Widow
1) Give her some sense of control.
During the first year after Chaz’s death, it felt like I no longer had control over anything in my life. There were A LOT of nice things being done for us, but it felt like I didn’t have a say in any of it. We were given hand-me-down clothes, so I no longer picked out what the kids wore. Meals were brought to us, so I no longer decided what we ate. Other people were picking up or cleaning the house, so I had no idea where to find anything anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely appreciated everything , but it all made me feel lost and purposeless.
So the smallest things sent me over the edge. At one point, my mom kept trying to buy the kids new shoes for the summer. She would bring some pairs over, but I would have her return them. I finally told her to stop buying them. There was so little that I had control over, I just wanted to be able to buy my kids shoes myself!
I know it probably sounds ridiculous, but in my life that was turned upside down, it felt like the one thing I could grab on to and do myself. So much had changed, and it was one responsibility that could stay the same. It was a constant from my “before life.”
So, in order to provide a sense of control, try asking first. Definitely ask before you do anything permanent. Ask about the little things, like if there is a particular way she likes her dishwasher loaded or specific cleaning products she likes to use. Or flat out ask her if there is something she wants to be in charge of. Just give her something that she can hold on to, something that makes her feel in control during the chaos.
2) Don’t make her feel like a burden.
After Chaz died, our independence was lost. In our 2-parent household, we had our own processes and routines to accomplish everyday tasks. If we needed something from the store, one parent could stay home while the other ran out. If one of us wanted to participate in some extracurricular activity (like book club), the other parent was able to stay with the kids. There was always someone else there whenever it was needed. So, I suddenly found myself dependent on a lot of other people.
And I HATED it. Like I said, Chaz and I were very independent, and we never really asked for help from others. Now I needed help all the time. I felt like people’s lives were screwed up because of me. I basically felt like a huge burden, which played a big factor into why I wouldn’t ask for the things listed here.
You can reassure her with words as much as you want. But remember, body language and actions show just as much, if not more. So please, do whatever you can to make sure she knows she is not a burden. And if you do feel like she’s a burden, then help her find a replacement for whatever you may have been helping her with. Because she likely won’t ask anyone on her own.
3) Give her a break.
I don’t think there has been a time yet that someone has voluntarily taken the kids for me so that I could just have some time for myself. If someone is watching the kids, I am usually grocery shopping, at an appointment, or running some other errands. That time is not spent relaxing, and definitely not grieving. It’s always go, go, go.
The “me time” that I have gotten is when I take a vacation day from work and still send the kids to daycare, or I pay a babysitter so I can spend time with friends. Because of that, I’m very limited on the time to myself. Which has limited the time I’ve actually been able to grieve over this loss.
Maybe she doesn’t have kids, but whatever it is, just give her a break from her responsibilities. Give her a chance to lay in bed all day and cry every once in a while. Especially on days that you know will be hard, like anniversaries, birthdays, or even the 1-year mark of her husband’s death. Give her a chance to just “not think” about real life, so she can let her grief wash completely over her. Just give her a break.
4) Check in with her.
I’ve actually had a lot of people check in with me often over the past year, and I’ve appreciated it SO MUCH. But there were also some people that I had hoped would, but didn’t. So that is why I am including it in this list.
I received random cards in the mail from friends. They were funny and/or encouraging and always had a nice note. I’ve had friends call and offer to pick something up from the grocery store for us when they were on their way home from work, even when it was completely out of there way. I’ve gotten random emails or messages just letting me know they were thinking of me. I’ve had neighbors randomly drop off yummy desserts or meals. Every single one of these made me feel like I wasn’t so alone, that I hadn’t been forgotten, and that people still knew how much I was hurting.
So do what you can to give her that kind of support. Even posting a funny joke or link to her on Facebook might be sufficient. Just do what you can to let her know she’s not alone.
5) Don’t stop trying.
In the beginning, I almost felt bombarded with offers to help. Or offers to go out for drinks and to have “fun.” It was completely overwhelming after everything that had just happened. I appreciated it all, but I was an absolute mess. Like I said before, I had no idea what I needed. And I definitely was not ready for fun and being social. So I said “No” a lot. I turned everyone down. I just wasn’t capable of dealing with it.
And while there has been a lot of people who stuck through all my “no” answers, there have also been a lot of people who just gave up, and I haven’t heard from them since the first several weeks.
Eventually, I did start saying “yes.” I did take people up on their offers to do yard work, or accepting their hand-me-down clothes. I did start having friends over, or going out for drinks with them. I did start bringing the kids to playdates. It just took a while, a long while, for me to get to that point.
So don’t give up on her. If she says “no,” try again in a few weeks. And then in another few weeks. Maybe change up what you are offering. Be patient. Just don’t stop asking or trying.
I didn’t know how to classify this, so I’m just considering it a bonus tip. 🙂 It’s kind of a combination of #1 and #3, and it’s kind of hard to explain. So, I’ll just provide an example.
When Chaz was still here, there would be times when he would handle the kids on his own, so that I could get a little side project done. Things like organizing a closet, packing away clothes that the kids had outgrown, or even cleaning the bathroom. Now that it is just me and the kids, I don’t have the second person to rely on for those little things that I once took for granted. There are so many projects that I want to do now, but I just can’t with the kids around. Which is why this is a combination. I want to control the way the closet gets organized, but I can’t do it effectively with little ones running around my feet.
So, find a way to help her with situations like this. Her need will probably be different than my particular example, but I bet she has something like it! Just ask her! (And like #5, don’t stop asking!)
Well, hopefully you found these suggestions useful. People’s situations are different though, so the young widow you know might not need or want exactly what I did. Just be there for her, and eventually you’ll find a way to help. You can also have her contact me. I’m sure I would understand how she’s feeling, and maybe that’s what she really needs. Someone who has been through it, and can truly relate to her.
This was the second post in my Monday Mourning Widow Series. If you missed the first post, click the following link to read it:
I have several more topics for this series in progress, including: What NOT to Say to a Widow, More Ideas to Help (Help that I was given without even asking, and was definitely needed), Grief Quotes that Annoy Me, and so much more. If you don’t want to miss anything in this series, please subscribe to have my latest posts delivered straight to your inbox!