As someone who was widowed at thirty-two, I thought it would be helpful to give some suggestions and insight into what helped me through the most difficult period of grieving in my life. The loss of anyone you care about is difficult, but losing a spouse is one of the most difficult, surpassed possibly only by the loss of a child. I will say that personally, God is the only way I managed to survive those dark days. This is what friends and family did that helped to lift me up.
There were the simple online and Facebook condolences that were the first help. We live in an era of social media and that is part of the condolence process now. We are connected to more people than ever before and obviously there are going to be people who go through loss that you're not necessarily close to. In situations like that an online condolence is perfectly acceptable. If we never even talk I wouldn't expect you to come by my house. But just letting me know that you're sorry, you care, and you're thinking about me is nice. Private messages also follow under this, if you're able to send a message, even a short one that is always appreciated also.
Beyond this, sending a card is thoughtful. I had a lot of friends send cards and I shared them with the kids each time we got a new one. (My kids were 7 and 8 when my husband passed away.) Even if you send it a week or two later. I'll touch on that more later. I put all of our cards together so that we could save them as a keepsake. It was touching to see who sent cards and the short notes that they wrote inside. It helped us to feel like people did care.
If you life nearby the person you can actually visit and bring food. A freezer casserole might be a good switch up since everyone brings food. This will provide for days in the future as well. Offer to help out in any way that you can. I noticed that most people said "If you need anything, let me know." I did appreciate those greatly. But I'm going to challenge you to go a step further. One person reworded this simple statement and said "What can I do for you? What do you need?" When you change it from 'you reach out to me' to 'tell me something now' it is very powerful. I felt that I was able to go beyond the simple 'thank you' that I'd reply to the first one. And don't think I'm belittling the first, it meant more than you can imagine.
Think beyond food. Food is wonderful. It was so nice to not have to worry about something as simple as what I'm going to cook for days. Even one of my neighbors that I'd never spoke to brought me some food and a bag of oranges. Did you know that the traditional gift to bring is also coffee? Dry coffee. That's a blessing. If you're looking for something different to do to provide immediate help you can think beyond food. Someone brought me laundry detergent. I know that sounds like a weird gift, but after you've suffered such a stunning loss, household goods are good gifts because you don't want to immediately think of having to run to the grocery store. There is so much going on and so much chaos and grief and that's one thing you don't want to have to worry about. So along those lines, I would even recommend a small gift basket full of the basic household goods. If the family has children, maybe a basket of kid snacks and treats, and activities. If you send flowers, I recommend a potted plant that they will be able to keep for a while unlike cut flowers that die within a week or two.
Think outside the box. Another one of my family members brought their daughter over to play video games with my kids one evening. It was something that is so simple and might seem out of place, but while we're mourning, children need a break. They need a simple opportunity to forget that they are going through something horrible and be able to lose themselves for a moment in something as basic as a video game. They laughed and played for hours and it was nice to see them escape from their grief for a little while. If the widow is older, think of an activity that you can do together either in her home or away that can help take her mind off of things for a while.
The worst part about grief is that after a few days or week, people stop coming by. They stop calling, they stop sending cards. Very quickly, everyone goes on about their life and you are still struggling through grief and trying to figure out how to put your life back together again. What is it even supposed to look like now? You have no idea. And all too quickly that large support system is gone. Those moments weeks and even months later, I received a few cards.
There was a few friends who sent follow up cards to let me know that they were thinking of me. There was a friend who sent me these adorable little crafted hearts that had Bible verses of support stamped onto them. I still have and cherish them to this day. There were friends who created homemade cards and to know they took that time for me was heartwarming. There was also a woman who I didn't even know who was also a widow and she became my pen-pal for over a year. She shared stories of her life and tips to help me through as well as support. It was nice to be able to open up to someone who had been through what I was going through.
You don't have to be crafty to do these things. Even just a card or a letter a few months later to let me know that you remember my loss, you know that I'm struggling and you care about me. That was the greatest thing. Those cards and letters always, ALWAYS seem to show up when you need them the most.
Lastly, I will add that there are two more things that people don't think about when it comes to widows. Widows of all age will probably now need an extra hand or handy man. There are things around the house that get broke and we just can't fix it. There are things that need muscle and no matter what you try, what muscle you have is just not enough. It's nice to have someone offer to help with things like this.
The second thing is for widows with younger children. Offer to help with childcare. Some people have childcare already in place. But there are some of us who don't and don't have any family close-by who is able to help. Moments when I was able to quickly run and complete an errand alone were no longer possible. I even had to go through my doctor appointments with my children sitting in the room. There's also not much alone time at this point. So sometimes when you just need a moment to yourself, it's not available. If you know a widow with small children, offer to take her kids for a play-date for the evening. Offer to come to her house and watch them, or even for a sleepover with your kids. Just let her know that you're available for her during this time.
The most important thing I want you to take away from this is that you can be there, listen, and don't forget that time hasn't moved on for them. They are still grieving, still adjusting, still re-learning this new life months later. Think deeper and see what you can do to help them out.
"...Visit orphans and widows in their affliction,..." ~James 1:27
"Take care of any widow who has no one else to care for her." ~ 1 Timothy 5:3