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What to say when your friend’s husband dies

You just got a call. Your friend’s husband died. You reach for the phone to respond, but what do you say? Sometimes when friends don’t know what to say, they don’t say anything. DO NOT do this – your friend has been abandoned (yes, it can feel like abandonment) by their husband, they don’t need their friends to jump ship too. And don’t assume that their other friends know this – they may not know what to say either.


Before we elaborate on what you should say and how you should show up, here’s some context of what your friend is going through.


What grief does to your brain.

The death of a spouse is the #1 most stressful life event. Think about the most stressful life event you’ve ever had. How easy was it to think? Could you sleep? Could you get out of bed? Now, imagine that stressful event being 10 to 100 times worse. If you’re married, try to imagine how you would feel and react if your husband died.

Grief wreaks havoc on your health and your mind. Widows often report grief brain, or brain fog. Their mind is so busy trying to make sense of what happened and organizing their ‘new way of being’ that they don’t have brain space for much else. So, you might not get a call back. They may forget your birthday, or a conversation you had last week and cancel plans frequently.


What not to say

Having that context in mind, here’s some advice on what you should NOT say.


  • DON’T SAY - How did they die? What happened? Do not force your friend to re-live the nightmare. The way their husband died could have been very traumatic. If they want you to know, they’ll tell you.

  • DON’T SAY - I understand. Unless you have had a spouse die, you don’t understand.

  • DON’T SAY - You should/you need to…The only person who knows what is best for them is your friend. If they ask you for advice, you can give it. Don’t put your expectations on them of how they should grieve and how long they will grieve. It is totally normal for a widow to be in deep grief for 2-3 years.

  • DON’T SAY - If you ever need anything, let me know. There are two problems with this statement. 1) ANYTHING: Will you really help them with ANYTHING? Will you come over to their home at 6AM every weekday to help them get the kids ready for school or take out the trash? 2) Making your friend think: Do not put the onus on your friend to figure out what they need or to take the arduous step to tell you what they need.


What to say and do

Here are some tips on what to say and how you can help your friend get through grief.


  • If you don’t know what to say, just say – “I don’t know what to say.” You don’t need the right words. Just sit there in their pain with them, hold their hand, hand them a tissue. And be there to listen when they want to talk. Take a page out of Job on what to do: “When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”

  • “How are you doing today?” Regularly check in with your friend. Put it on your calendar to check in once a week. You must be intentional about this because out of sight is out of mind. Your friend will be out of sight because they are grieving.

  • “May I do ___________ for you?” Use your imagination and think about what you could take off your friend’s plate.

    • Were there tasks her husband did like mowing the lawn, getting the car serviced, getting the dogs groomed, or taking out the trash cans on trash day?

    • If she has small children you could offer to come over once a week to put them to bed or watch the kids so your friend can go on a walk by themselves.

    • You could pick up the kids from school or take them to after-school activities.

IMPORTANT: If you do make a commitment to help your friend, do not break it.

 

Helping your friend through grief is hard and our culture does not train us how to do it well. This is why we offer monthly live workshops to anyone who wants to walk with their friend in grief.



Best regards,


Jennifer

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