6.19.2009

A Widow on Father's Day


Milestones can bonk you in the head pretty hard, especially if you run into them without looking. But if you stand back far, enough, you start to see the long line stretching through the landscape.

We hit one today: my daughter rushed after Mr. Fresh after he dropped her off at preschool to make sure he’d gotten his present: a little keychain and an “I LOVE YOU” card with a necktie on it. We’ve let her drive what she calls him and his family, and overheard her telling a friend what a stepdad is a few weeks ago. But this is a big step, at least a big symbolic one.

See how easy it is to turn a really horrible milestone that is the bane of widows all over the country into a positive one?

(Wait a sec. Finding a suitable man and marrying him, and changing everything in our lives, was not easy. But it looks that way from this milestone. See all them big rocks off in the distance? They used to hurt, too.)

How to Help a Young Widowed
Mom or Dad on Father’s Day


Here is what you can do right now:

1. Think of a parent who has been widowed in the past several years. It doesn’t have to be this past year; holidays hurt after many other things have healed. It doesn’t have to be someone you are super-close to. Many widows report that their closest friends and family keep some distance after a loss. The reasons are complicated but suffice it to say, you can’t assume someone else is taking care of them on this day.

2. Call them and say you are thinking of them and their family. The most common reasons people don’t reach out are, “I don’t know what to say” and “I don’t want to remind them of their loss.” A widow will be glad you called even if you bumble a little, and she has heard it all: there really is no right thing to say. And she never escapes reminders of her loss, you will not be the problem. Just be honest and listen. Use “I” statements. It’s okay to have feelings, to cry, to be awkward. We are human!

3. Before you get off the phone, offer to:
-- Bring by a bag of groceries (if they have a list, great, if not, do it anyway).
-- Run an errand up to $20 without expecting to be reimbursed (just makes it simpler).
-- Come by with coffee, a treat, or a meal. Keep them company or leave them with it if they prefer. Make sure they don’t feel they have to clean up. Say “eh, looks just like my house” and then, DO NOT STARE at the piles of toys. You don’t have to “cheer them up,” and they may want to share memories. Just come as you are and listen as they are.

If you really want to be a superhero, offer to perform some ordinary household chore, especially something they would not be comfortable asking for. Most in demand for widows? Cut the grass. Widowers? Bring beer and help them fold clean laundry some evening.

4. Promise to keep in touch and do it.
-- Repeat a similar favor as above, any time, holiday or not.
-- If you come across an old picture or a memory pops up, do share it with them. E-mail or snail mail is fine, but use it as an excuse to get together if you can follow up.

What's in it for You?
If you were close to the loved one, you will find that doing this helps you heal as well.
If you didn’t know them, you may be making a good new friend at a time when she is rethinking all her relationships.

Important Note About Protocol:
Widows are not very good at returning calls or e-mails. If you don’t reach them, do leave a message but also call back or try another medium (e-mail, Facebook). Be persistent. Don’t worry, they will tell you straight up if you are being a pest.

About Taking the Kids:
As desperate as they may be for time off and as much as you may associate this holiday with a spa or golf trip alone, a widowed parent may not want to let go of the kids. But you could offer to go somewhere or invite them over to your place, or if you have kids too, arrange a playdate.

Holy Crap. Is it Monday Already?
Did someone in your family have a nice Father’s Day? It’s not too late. Take the same steps, it will be just as appreciated.

Other ideas? Success stories? Leave a comment. I’m working on a much longer piece on “how to help,” so I want to hear about your experience.

* * * Comments * * *

13 comments:

wordnerd said...

Thank you for this post...it sometimes helps to get a direct perspective. I have someone in mind to contact this coming weekend and will keep these things in mind.

J-in-Wales said...

A great post, even for someone without children. We all have our milestones, and they are all a struggle to get past.

Single Parent Dad said...

I would say this wouldn't have worked for me. Maybe I am unusual, but I'd rather folks just treated me like normal. Telling me their thinking of me doesn't really help me.

Split-Second Single Father said...

Another great advice post of yours, which I always enjoy. As a general rule, I think widows might accept and enjoy this more readily than most widowers.

This is especially good advice for someone newly widowed, but you also have to know the person a bit. I'm with SPD in that I'd welcome a visit, call, or kind deed, but don't really want people to dwell on what might already be a hard day. (Case in point, my parents and siblings always call me on Mother's Day, but it's always a very normal conversation.)

That being said, widowed or not, everyone appreciates a kind deed every now and again. So for most widowers, you can follow all of the great advice above, but without drawing attention to your reason for doing so.

Just check first if you're planning to bring beer. Some of us prefer a good red wine instead.

Sherry said...

These tips are very similar to ones I've given before. Always a good reminder!

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Gentlemen: Thanks for the feedback, I'll run a longer piece past a few guys (you, if you like?) before overgeneralizing. Of course this was based on my own experience -- and we are each different. And I need to refine it -- did not mean anyone to stop at step 1.

Sherry: Welcome and thanks. I'm glad there's now a Mommy blog with a widows section -- I could have really used your advice a few years ago. Keep up the great work!

Snickollet said...

You're a genius.

Split-Second Single Father said...

A sneak-peek at an upcoming FW post? I'd jump at the chance! (and offer an honest critique). You know where to find me.

Kennedi said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Carolyn Hax's advice column in today's Washington Post provides a simple guide:

step 1. Don't judge, don't pity, don't disappear
step 2. read up on the issue - not so you can offer advice, but so you can empathize.
step 3. listen carefully to see if there is something your friend might need.

This might save everyone a couple pages, eh?

X

Supa

Roads said...

I can see exactly where the other guys are coming from, Supa, but really I'm with you on this one as well.

Blokes like us tend to think in slightly and understandably stereotypical 'I can do it on my own' kind of ways. Primarily I think it feels good to have low expectations of other people, since you won't be disappointed when no one calls.

But when people did actually make the effort to call -- as unexpected as that often was -- I always, always appreciated it, even if they got their words in a muddle as you describe.

My advice is never to let fear of failure put you off from reaching out to a widow and widower and offering assistance. Because fear of failure is far too convenient an excuse.

Single Parent Dad said...

Supa - I should have expanded. I totally get where you are coming from, but have a tendency to simplify things. Would always be happy to give my feedback. Glib, as it is!

Crash Course Widow said...

Good suggestions, Supa. It's always interesting to me to read the suggestions that other widows give to "other" people, so they know how they can help us. Helps me to gauge what suggestions I might give that are specific only to me, and what ones might be specific to other widows or grievers, and which ones just might be pretty universal.

I've found that all I really want from people is to listen to me. To let me be however I want to be--whether it's silly, serious, sad, happy, gossipy, macabre, bitter, angry, etc.--and not cut me off or try to fix me. And I'd like them to check in with me here and there, see how I'm doing and **bloody-well ACKNOWLEDGE** that yes, this shitty thing happened in my past and that, yes, it still influences my life these days. So for me, here's how people can help: ask how I'm doing, and then really LISTEN to what I have to say; be aware that some days or weeks are going to be harder than others, regardless of how long it's been since the death ( regardless of whether it's a holiday, grief "trigger day," or just a supposedly nothing-special/normal day); and realize that I still need help with some things (like the damned lawn! =)). Mostly, I think I just like people to understand, acknowledge, and be understanding that widowhood still affects my life. [Snort.]

Nice post!

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