The loss of a husband can seem devastating. If a friend or family member has recently suffered such a loss, you probably want to help and provide comfort, but you may not know what to do or say. The reality is that you cannot take away the pain of such a significant loss. You can, however, offer comfort and support to help the bereaved through this difficult time.
Express Sympathy and Support
If you’re not sure what to say, start by saying that. Tell the bereaved you’re sorry for her loss and that you care about her. Let her know if you feel sad or that you miss her husband, too. It’s all right if you cry. Offer to pray for her or with her if you know that her religious beliefs include a belief in the power of prayer.
Things to Avoid Saying
Don’t say, “I know how you feel.” Unless you also lost a spouse, you probably don’t know how the bereaved wife feels, and even if you have lost a spouse, that doesn’t necessarily mean she feels the same way you did. Don’t say, “It was God’s will” or “He’s in a better place.” Saying things like that minimizes the pain of the loss the bereaved feels.
Be a Good Listener
Listen more than you speak. Let the bereaved share her feelings, whatever feelings she may have. Don’t pressure her to talk about her loss but express willingness to listen if she wants to talk about it. Resist the urge to give advice or try to cheer her up. Just acknowledge what she says.
Offer a Hand or Shoulder
Sometimes physical contact conveys comfort and support better than words. If appropriate considering your relationship with the bereaved, hold her hand, give her a hug or put your arm around her shoulders. If you don’t know the bereaved very well, though, ask if it’s all right before you hug her or touch her. You don’t have to say anything. Just be there with her.
Remember with Her
Listen if she wants to share stories about her husband, even if you’re heard the same stories many times before. Share your own stories about him. Attend the funeral or memorial service. Make a donation to a charity in her husband’s honor. Offer to help her put together a scrap book to hold her most precious memories. What you do is not as important as the fact that you are doing something to acknowledge and honor her husband’s life.
Offer Practical Assistance
Offer practical assistance to relieve stress and make life easier for the bereaved during this difficult time. Don’t just say, “Let me know if you need anything.” Offer to help with specific tasks. Ask if you can bring over dinner, mow the lawn or pick up some groceries at the store. If she has children, offer to take them on an outing so they get some attention and she gets some rest. The website of the American Cancer Society points out that sometimes people decline offers of practical assistance for a variety of reasons, so don’t feel offended if the bereaved doesn’t accept your offer.
Cancer Care. How to Help Someone Who is Grieving.
American Cancer Society. Helping Someone Who is Grieving.