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.
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