Recently a neighbor, Ann, was found dead in her condo above us. Her husband had died six months earlier. I knew that she had taken it very hard, but she seemed so strong and was going on with her life.
I would see her in passing when she was out walking her dog. I remember her mentioning to me that she hoped she did not disturb me while she was crying so hard the night before. After she was found dead, I was laden with guilt. I had been too busy to take the time to chat more with her and find out how she was really doing. Now she was gone. Could a little of my time with her have prevented her death?
Always ask God to encourage those who are going through loss.
Ann was not very old and seemed to me to be a picture of good health, so her passing took me by surprise. Her daughter lived about four hours away, so it was hard for her to check in on her. Ann seemed to be busy working at what she loved doing, which was singing. In fact, that was how she met her husband—they were both in a jazz singing group here in our city. She was scheduled to sing on the day she was found dead. Sadly, even her singing didn’t take away the hidden pain she was going through.
Losing a spouse can be devastating. A study has found that when a husband or wife dies, the remaining spouse’s risk of dying is 66 percent higher in the three months afterward. Grief can even affect the immune system. There can even be what’s called “Sudden Adult Death Syndrome,” a cardiac condition that can be triggered by emotional stress.
How can we help those who’ve lost the love of their life, their life’s partner, their spouse? People may seem okay on the outside, just as Ann did to me for the most part, but on the inside grief has overtaken and overwhelmed them.
Here are some positive steps you can take to help:
Call, text or e-mail them often—even if they don’t respond. Let them know you are there for them. This is especially important after the funeral when other people return to their normal routines and aren’t there to provide support. Stay involved!
Include them in your family’s activities.
As time permits, make sure they are not spending their days alone.
Listen, and don’t try to “fix” their feelings.
They will need a listening ear so they can vent their emotions. Some of the most common feelings and concerns after the loss of a spouse are reflected in statements like these:
“I’ve lost my best friend.”
“I feel guilty I didn’t do enough for him [or her].”
“I worry about lots of things, especially money.”
“I suddenly feel very old.”
“I feel sick all the time.”
“I think about my own death more.”
“I seem to be going through an identity crisis.”
“I feel relieved that his [or her] suffering is over, then immediately guilty for feeling that way.”
Widows and widowers need your time so they can express all of these confusing emotions. Through this they can begin to heal and move forward. Studies clearly show that mortality rates are higher among those who don’t articulate their grief; this is especially true with men. Always ask God to help you say and do the right thing to help them.
Offer to help with paperwork, housework and grocery shopping.
This is especially true for a widower whose wife might have done all those things. On top of the death, these day-to-day chores can be overwhelming. Bring frozen meals. Just make yourself available and offer support, stating directly, “Please tell me what I can do for you.”
The Bible says much about caring for widows, but the need is also there for widowers. New research has found that a grieving husband is more likely to die shortly after losing his wife, while a widowed woman is more able to carry on with life.
Professor Javier Espinosa, who led a study at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said: “When a wife dies, men are often unprepared. They have often lost their caregiver, someone who cares for them physically and emotionally, and the loss directly impacts the husband’s health. This same mechanism is likely weaker for most women when a husband dies” (quoted in The Telegraph, Oct. 22, 2012).
If you are going through a loss or know someone who is, remember Psalms 34:18 Psalms 34:18The LORD is near to them that are of a broken heart; and saves such as be of a contrite spirit.
American King James Version×: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (New International Version). Always ask God to encourage those who are going through loss.
Never take for granted that people are doing okay by the brave face they put on, as I did with Ann. Be involved, take their hand, and encourage them through this. Don’t forget widows and widowers in their time of need!
(This Beyond Today article first appeared as a blog post on April 13, 2016.)