National Widows Day this year is on Wednesday, May 3, 2023. National Widows Day was established to heighten awareness of the struggles and hardships many widows experience after the death of her husband. The Hope for Widows Foundation reminds us to honor a widow today and every day.
Some people shy away from caring for widows going through the most excruciatingly vulnerable season of her life. It can be intimidating to figure out how to best serve someone experiencing such a devastating loss. Don’t think of this as a holiday set aside one day a year to recognize the widows in your life. See it as a reminder to look for and support the widows in your life who need people to come alongside them for a while and pick up the slack the presence of her husband filled, until she has a chance to reorganize and learn to adapt to walking alone.
Not every widow’s journey is so difficult. Some are blessed with family and friends who come side by side with them and love on them patiently with kindness. These women’s suffering is tempered with love and helps them find their way forward more quickly and steadily.
That being said, most widows lack the support they need to take on the new challenges they suddenly face in the wake of this loss. Friendships change because they are no longer a part of a couple. Family members may be suffering their own grief and don’t have the capacity to help the widow. The weight of the grief widows experience can make it impossible to figure out what they need to do. Many don’t know how to ask for help because they can’t figure out what they need.
Consider being a superhero to a widow in your life. It may be the most important thing you ever do. It takes being willing to step into a life changing situation for a woman at a crucial crossroad of life. Some widows are so traumatized from their loss they can’t make the connection from their sense of reason to articulate what they need. They are wrapped in a fog of protection from the intensity of their pain. When you ask them what you can do they have no way to reach the processing of their brain to come up with an answer.
Don’t offer to help someone unless you are honestly willing and able to do something. Help should be offered with grace and humility. It is a gift. Wrap it in the beauty of love and make it flexible to give the healing, time, resources, or items with compassion and patience in an effort to honor the dignity and worth of the person you are reaching out to.
When we go to a widow to support her in her grief, go with love and offer your heart as you offer to carry hers. What does that mean? The Passion Translation of 1 Corinthians 13 explains it well:
Love is large and incredibly patient. Love is gentle and consistently kind to all. It refuses to be jealous when blessing comes to someone else. Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance. Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honor. Love is not easily irritated or quick to take offense. Love joyfully celebrates honesty and finds no delight in what is wrong. Love is a safe place of shelter, for it never stops believing the best for others. Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
WHERE TO START
I caution you to guard and carefully consider your words. When you speak to a widow with compassion you can make a real difference. You might be able to lead them to healing much more quickly. When you respond to someone in a loving and kind way, you may be able to find out her story. She might find the courage to speak her heart and you might glimpse where she is, so you are able to minister to her in what she is going through.
You can start with asking how are you doing today? Patiently wait for a response. Give her your attention and coax her to elaborate if she responds with a programmed or one word answer. You may not know what she is going through. You may not have experience walking in her shoes. It takes courage to look in her eyes and see the pain and decide you are going to do what you can. Many times, what a widow wants most is someone to just listen. Someone who won’t interrupt and try to fix the impossible, but who will be willing to let her speak and release the hurt and chaos inside her without being judged.
Established norms and repeated practices and attitudes offered to people suffering the loss of loved ones are not always the best, even when offered with the best intentions. When someone you care about is grieving, it can be hard to find the right words.
Avoid these types of commonly expressed sentiments:
- Time heals all wounds
- This is a blessing in disguise
- You must be relieved this is over
- It’s for the best
Any suggestion there is something good in the experience, such as, “Look on the bright side” or “Every cloud has a silver lining” will only bring deeper hurt and could damage your relationship.
Resist the urge to compare your experience or pain to what the widow might be going through. It is impossible for you to really know how she is feeling at this point in time. We are all unique in our background, culture and understanding and each of these impact how we might respond to our circumstances.
DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER
Sometimes the most broken, lonely and hurting people are the ones you would never expect. She’s the one who keeps a smile on her face and always looks okay. She’s the one who is the first to step in when she notices someone else hurting or in need. She doesn’t complain much. She brushes off compliments and shies away from recognition for her kindness. She usually says she doesn’t like to be the center of attention. She will tell people she is fine. This describes many widows I know, especially the ones who were caregivers to their husbands until he went to Heaven.
One of the hardest things about grief is it is a wound to the heart and sometimes to the soul. It isn’t visible to the onlooker’s eye. This makes it difficult for people to assess the scope of the injury and trauma to understand what the griever might need. Combine this with an inability to determine how long it might take to heal. This might mean an impulsive reaction might actually inflict further injury or pain to the bereaved.
Grief is not a word with universal definition. Grief affects each of us in its own way. We don’t know how it is going to affect us until we literally experience it. We experience it in different forms with each new death. We might react differently from what people expect… sometimes even different than we thought we would. We may look fine on the outside and be completely shattered inside. We can’t see with our eyes the impact death has on the mind, will and emotions—the soul—of someone else.
There is no time limit on when grief is done. This is especially true when it is from a significant loss like a spouse. Some widely accepted attitudes on how long it is acceptable to grieve prevail that range from as soon as the memorial service is over to getting through the first year.
Countless widows share their pain of being judged, abandoned and worse if they haven’t “moved on” in a set determined time frame. This only adds to the pain and further delays the healing process.
Even if a widow you know has been a widow for a while… even years… you can still honor her by an act of kindness. When you share life intimately with your husband it is hard not to keep encountering triggers of memories. These can happen at holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. They can also happen when she hears a familiar phrase he used to say, smell something that makes her remember, or eat at a restaurant where they celebrated important life moments. When you spend most of your life with someone you love and share everything with, even when they are gone physically, they live on in her heart and mind.
Honor a widow this National Widows Day. Honor them every day you can. Sometimes the most ordinary day can be the most difficult for a widow. Show kindness with a note of cheer. Brighten her day with some flowers. Offer to take her to lunch or a movie. Provide a gift card for a meal out or for groceries. Sometimes the smallest acts of kindness can mean the difference between catastrophe and hope.
You can make an immeasurable difference this National Widows Day by helping a widow in your sphere of influence feel valued, cared for, and understood. Maybe she’s your Mom or sister. Perhaps she’s a neighbor, coworker or someone you know from church.
You will be blessed as the person God uses to touch a vulnerable heart. Being a vessel God uses to meet a very real need in someone’s life can bolster your faith in God. You will realize you too can feel seen and needed. You will accomplish something very important as you encourage and comfort a widow. You can share your strength and courage to minister to her needs and walk beside her through this incredibly difficult season. God bless you.
*Have you heard about Hope for Widows Foundation’s annual Restoring Hope & Peace Grant program? It was established by the organization in 2019 to help widowed women offset financial challenges as they navigate their healing journey. You can find out details, timeline and the history of this grant here: https://hopeforwidows.org/grant/ All widows based in U.S. and Canada are encouraged to apply. Applications are now open on National Widows Day, May 3, 2023. For additional questions feel free to email email@example.com *