My baby sis just shared with me, the story of her friend, who lost her young husband to the cold hands of death. It was a bizarre death. He had gone to visit a friend in a volatile environment, where there were two warring groups, and he had been mistaken as a member of the opposing gang by the other gang and they had basically hacked him down.
It was a most painful way to go; a most painful way to lose a husband. My sis is distraught, not knowing how to comfort her friend, who had only been married for six months. She didn’t even know what to say to her or even how to approach the subject matter, except to just sit with her all through the day and see to her very minimal needs, as she wasn’t eating or sleeping. She just moans her late husband’s name and wonders out aloud, why she had married him, if he knew he was going to make a young widow out of her.
I’m touched by the pain my sister’s friend is obviously going through, and do know that it is not easy to provide comfort in situations like this, but it is definitely possible to avoid making things worse by the things that we say.
Here are a few things a young widow wouldn’t like to hear, no matter how well-meaning. Just avoid them, and if you don’t have anything nice to say, then it is a lot easier to just stay silent and let your presence communicate your willingness to offer support, when needed.
“It was meant to be.”
No matter how close you think you were, or are, to a recently deceased person or their family member, this is never the way to go. An emotionally distraught widow would only hear this, “It’s OK that my husband died,” which is very far from what you might have intended.
While you might have been trying to be helpful, think for a moment, “Would I want someone to say that to me?” If not, then it’s best to keep quiet. Dig down deep into that heart of yours and try to find some empathy.
“He’s at peace now.”
“We were at peace before all of this happened. He didn’t go looking for peace.” Was the response a weeping widow had given one time.
Yes, she understood the meaning behind the platitudes being offered; that he is with the Lord in Heaven, and that it is supposed to be a peaceful thought. Well, it is not a peaceful thought all. It just wasn’t the right thing to say to her, in her current frame of mind.
Besides, it makes her wonder how that’s supposed to make her, who is still here, feel any better?
Give it a thought, does that comment really provide any comfort.
“You have a guardian angel now.”
There is this popular joke that in Africa, our ancestors never die and go to rest, they must always be ready to accept libations and run errands, even from the great beyond.
And there is also a mindset that young people who die are restless and often hang around their loved ones, warding off evil and such. I think this is where the guardian angel notion came from.
But hear what a widow says about the comment:
“I’ve tried many times to get behind this idea, but I don’t buy it. Why would God take Justin away from his infant child and wife so he could watch over us from above? It’s not very logical and sounds to me like a cop-out. I don’t see my view on this as sacrilegious, because I do believe in God. But as the widow who’s lived with this nightmare everyday, I don’t have the luxury to entertain such a fantasy. I get it, but please don’t say it to a new widow. At least not to me.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
Aha, don’t even go there, unless you know the reason for the death.
True the mindset is, the reason for the death will make sense one day but that doesn’t provide any comfort to a grieving widow in the moment.
“I know exactly how you feel… (when my husband left / when I got divorced and had the kids alone / when my husband travels for work)…
First of all, those scenarios painted don’t come close to the grief of losing a husband in death, and never will…not even divorce is close to it.
Secondly, while this is a good attempt to empathise with a widow, it is so the wrong thing to say. True, those examples are difficult, but they hold no candle to death.
Now, you may wonder, so what do I say?
I’m a fan of this approach, because I find that I’m at a loss for words in such situations. And I don’t want to be insensitive by saying the platitudes above, so I shut up, and communicate instead with touch and eye contact. I simply seek to pass on the message that “I’m here to support you, if you need me.”
I don’t know what to say
If you are not comfortable with not verbalising your feelings, you can put them into words. It’s okay to tell the truth if you don’t know what to say.
Your honesty allows the widowed to know you are a safe person to talk to because they’ll know you aren’t trying to fix them. The truth is, you can’t fix what they would like you to fix, so just let go.
I can’t imagine how you feel
Even if you have experienced the loss of a spouse before, it doesn’t mean you know exactly how she feels. No, you don’t. No two relationships are the same because they are comprised of two different people.
Offer to help with something specific; cook a meal, watch the children (if any)
If you really feel a need to be useful, you can offer to make a meal, it will do some good. Offer to watch the children (if any), clean the house or help with making a to-do list for the funeral.
We all deal with grief in different ways, some need the activity and if you are like that, then it’s fine.
I pray that God heals every grieving heart and comforts them on all sides, but we don’t need to inflict more pain on the young widow, while thinking we are being helpful. These tips will help.
May deaths be far away from our loved ones. Amen.
Kristine is a member of The Lovelint team. She is a down to earth person, who says it as it is. Having given relationship advice for years in a national daily, she has found out that fear is one of the main reasons holding people back from enjoying a healthy, happy relationship. She is married with kids and is willing to listen to you and help as much as you let her to.