Please Do, and Please Don't
There are many ways individuals can encourage widows on their journey. But it's often hard to know what to say, for fear of making things worse. So let me offer some "Please do" as well as some "Please do not" suggestions.
1. Please do stay connected. Do not assume we need "space" to grieve. There is already a huge hole in our universe.
2. Please do say you are sorry for our loss. Do not tell us you understand, unless you do from personally experiencing the loss of a spouse. We would rather you tell us you do not know what to say than tell us the story of losing your friend or even close relative. We may be able to listen to your story later, but not now.
3. Please call and ask specific questions, such as "Can we go for a walk together? May I run errands for you? Meet you for coffee?" Do not say, "Call me if you need anything."
4. Please refer to our husband's acts and words, both serious and humorous. We are so comforted by knowing our husband has not been forgotten.
5. Please invite us to anything. We may decline but will appreciate being asked. Do not assume we no longer want to participate in couples events.
6. Please accept that we are where we are. Marriages are brief, long, healthy, dysfunctional, intense, remote. Death comes suddenly or in tiny increments over years. Again, our experiences are so different, as are we. So are our journeys through grief. Do not assume we go through the grief process "by the book."
7. Do say, "I've been thinking of you" rather than make a conversation-only offer, such as "We'll call you, and we'll go out to dinner"—unless you can follow up. We'd love that, too.