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Bereavement

What best to say to or do for a new widow?

(67 Posts)
Jillybird Wed 12-Aug-20 13:51:12

My next-door-neighbour died late Monday night. We saw the ambulance but didn't intrude as there was another neighbour (a nurse) with them.

Tuesday morning his widow knocked to thank us for our note and to tell us what happened - she was, of course, weeping. I have totally no control so started weeping too, which I appreciate is not helpful, but something I can't seem to stop. (My mother used to tell me off as a child because I would always cry if someone else did - so I don't think there's much chance of me fixing it now).

What I am posting for, though, is to ask what those who have already been through this horrible scenario found helpful. I don't know what to say to her and I don't know what to do.

She said she had been looking round the house and was astonished that everything still looked the same.(I guess that's her processing the shock.) Then she said her son was coming but she didn't want him to. I asked why and she said she'd rather be left alone to deal with her emotions. I said I was glad he was coming and that she would appreciate him when he gave her a hug. She grudgingly agreed that he "needed to be there in order to deal with his own grief" which surprised me because they have always been very close.

She said the only help she wanted from me was to talk over the possibility of a burial without a funeral, which I said was definitely possible, but what did he want? She looked puzzled at that and didn't answer - I wonder if they never discussed it.

The deceased was 93 and his wife twenty years younger, although I don't know if that makes the slightest bit of difference to what anyone might kindly suggest...

Is there anything you found particularly helpful that someone did or said at this highly distressing emotional time?

AGAA4 Wed 12-Aug-20 16:57:21

I just found that people who said "If there is anything I can do" and meant it were the best help.
Many just say that but I knew the friends who would actually be there for me if needed.

tanith Wed 12-Aug-20 17:06:30

I found comfort in the neighbours who gave me a hug the words weren’t that important it was the hug.

Marmight Wed 12-Aug-20 17:15:21

As AGA says above.
I had lots of folk wanting to help in the following days. Some I accepted & some I didn’t so don’t be upset if she refuses. After DH died, neighbours & friends took turns to be with me until my DCs arrived and made cups of tea until I thought Id burst so I cracked open a few bottles of wine! Everyone’s different. I like to be surrounded. This lady probably doesn't. Offer some light food perhaps as she may well go off eating. Talk about it if she wants to. Just be lead by her & don’t worry about crying. Its ok

Daddima Wed 12-Aug-20 18:11:36

I always think that to take the initiative, maybe hand in some soup, or a cake, or invite her for coffee at yours, or suggest something specific ( even just a wee walk) is more thoughtful than the general ‘ give me a shout’, or ‘ you know where I am’. You’ll probably be able to judge when you see her if she feels like talking.
Everybody’s different, and has different feelings about company.
What I did notice was that many people who were at the Bodach’s funeral said they’d be in touch in a few days to arrange lunch or something. Very few ( two, I think) actually did.

Luckygirl Wed 12-Aug-20 18:30:31

Just keep in touch; talk; be there - the fact that people are willing to do that is kindness enough. There were some I would have expected to be a rock who simply did not get in touch. Others who I knew less well just stuck by me and it was greatly appreciated.

Madgran77 Wed 12-Aug-20 18:35:18

"How are you doing?" enables someone to take control of their response.

"I am going shopping. Would you like to come or can I get you anything?"

"I have just put the kettle on and wondered if you could do with some company or I will bring a cup across for you if you like"

"I made some cakes; brought a few across for you and your son"

"I am making lasagne; would you like to share it with me/like a portion for your freezer?"

Grandma70s Wed 12-Aug-20 18:41:36

My husband died many years ago when I and he were 40, so it’s not quite the same thing, but the important thing is to say something. Don’t avoid the person who’s been widowed because you don’t know what to say. “I’m so sorry” is enough. Practical help is good, as is a listening ear. Personally I found hugs intrusive, but the sympathetic hand on my arm was welcome. People vary in the amount of physical contact they like.

I have various friends who have been married 50 or 60 years, and I sometimes wonder what it will be like when their partners die. I can’t imagine it.

V3ra Wed 12-Aug-20 18:43:53

When my uncle died very suddenly and unexpectedly, one thing my Dad did was accompany my aunt to the many and various appointments she had to go to.
I know you said her son is coming and he may well be able to stay for that but it might be something to offer.
What a great age your neighbour was, but it still comes as a shock.

Septimia Wed 12-Aug-20 18:51:17

When my neighbour's husband was seriously ill and subsequently died, I emailed her each day. I just chatted about general things and she could reply if and when she felt like it.

I still keep in touch with her more or less daily, sometimes in person or by phone, but often by email so that she can reply when it's convenient.

Even if your neighbour doesn't use email, regular contact that doesn't put pressure on her might help her to cope. Perhaps a weekly coffee meet-up would be appropriate.

sodapop Wed 12-Aug-20 19:51:11

I agree with Grandma70 not everyone likes too much physical contact but just to be there, let your neighbour talk about her husband, don't avoid the issue. Practical help with transport, form filling, and all the bureaucracy which goes with death and funerals.
Your neighbour is lucky to have someone like you to help.

lemongrove Wed 12-Aug-20 19:56:24

Two of our neighbours died in the last few months.We sent cards of condolence saying just that we were here for them
( husbands who died) if they needed anything at all.They are both very private people and have families to help them.
That’s all you can do really, to make sure they know they can count on you, even for small things ( if they need shopping) or bigger things like help with arranging the funeral.

hopstone Thu 13-Aug-20 10:03:07

I agree with you tanith I found the hug gave more comfort than words.

polnan Thu 13-Aug-20 10:10:58

ah! Dadima, unfortunately that is my experience,, the loneliness,, for me , gosh I still have to count it on my fingers

for me, 9 months on,, people aren`t asking me to go out with them, or to be with me,,, the company is what I miss, the sharing,,, no one to share things with..

looking back the first couple of months, I was sort of o.k

then it sets in, and yes, food/eating, I had deliveries, but cooking and catering for one,,, I am lost... the ordinary , every day things.... to be there,, for "friends" not to be rebuffed if and when we say, no thankyou, to company and going out..

GoldenAge Thu 13-Aug-20 10:17:37

Be there - let the neighbour know you are there by definitely taking her food and not flowers. It’s the day to day living that becomes hard in the immediate aftermath of a death because the duties associated with the death intervene in efforts to keep the cooking going. In many other cultures it is accepted that neighbours will take it in turns for a week or so to provide the evening meal and that’s all you have to do - take it round and say you’re there if you’re needed to chat, to help or whatever but that you won’t intrude - your act of making something to eat without asking the question first of whether the bereaved person would want it will speak volumes and be appreciated.

timetogo2016 Thu 13-Aug-20 10:21:50

Words are meaningless,a hug however is priceless and speaks volumes.

MollyM Thu 13-Aug-20 10:22:33

Polnan gosh I know just what you mean. Every day seems so long and the loneliness is killing.
From my own experience things do get better. Slowly but in small ways. I don’t think Covid and the enforced isolation has helped. Hugs to you.

lovebooks Thu 13-Aug-20 10:24:19

When I lost my husband, I went on to a bereavement site which I found very helpful. One of the things we did was to draw up a list of things NOT to say to the grief-stricken. The two I most clearly remember were:

1. "He/She had a good innings." (As if you're score-ticking when your partner has just died?)

2. Of a very long marriage, partnership - "Weren't you lucky?" Occasionally followed by tales of marriages that went wrong.

Both of these were said to me at the time, as they are to a lot of people, and they're insensitive and they hurt. "I'm so sorry," is adequate.

janestheone Thu 13-Aug-20 10:25:48

Where I live (Tajikistan, similar culture to Iran, without the extremism) when someone dies (and April and May I saw plenty of funerals in my neighbourhood) the immediately bereaved don’t go out, or to work, or cook, or watch TV, for 40 days. Slightly more distant family (nieces, cousins) come and cook, or bring food, and then go away. It really seems a good and caring way of doing things.

Aepgirl Thu 13-Aug-20 10:29:07

Just be there to listen when she needs you.

annecordelia Thu 13-Aug-20 10:30:14

When my grandfather died in 1946, aged 31 and leaving 3 young children, his best friend's wife said to my poor grandma,' Well at least you won't miss him as much as I'd miss Jim if he went. We go dancing three times a week but you two hardly went anywhere.'

Humbertbear Thu 13-Aug-20 10:31:35

Always offer something definite. Invite her into tea/ supper. Knock and ask what shopping she needs etc. Allow her time to talk to you. Open invitations such ‘let me know if you need anything’ are no help at all

Jillybird Thu 13-Aug-20 10:38:34

Thank you all for responding. Special thanks to the kind person who said it's ok for me to cry. I feel like it's almost a disability - I am so annoyed with myself.

Thankfully her son is still there so they are getting on with practical stuff - they gave the wheelchair away yesterday and took back the expensive fan she only bought the day before he died because he was so hot.

I would love to give her a hug but even though I'm sure neither of us has Covid, I couldn't risk it in these tertible times.

It is a good idea to offer to help fill forms - thankyou. She is slightly dyslexic and I wouldn't have thought of it if someone hadn't mentioned it here.

Luckily this is a friendly area so there are several neighbours looking out for her - but we are the closest, both physically and friend-wise. (In fact another neighbour came with condolences for US because we have lost our friend!)

The saddest thing is, they were so utterly devoted to each other. I can't imagine how she will fill that gaping hole.

Thank you, everyone.

4allweknow Thu 13-Aug-20 10:44:23

I know when my sister was bereaved she said a few weeks later she really missed a hug. I made a point of always giving her one and also got my husband to do the same. People are all different. Just gentle contact can be enough eg a knock to say you plan on going shopping wiukd she like to go too just to get out for a while. Just every day things that perhaps a bit of company would make easier.

Pittcity Thu 13-Aug-20 10:48:20

I agree that a hug is the best thing, but as Jillybird says this is not a sensible thing to do at present. We need to try to express the hug in words from 2 metres away.