After the initial shock of my loss lessened, I began adjusting to life as a widow. Far from being “over” my grief, I faced ongoing challenges.
These are questions I found particularly helpful as time went by.
- How are you sleeping?
Grief wreaks havoc with sleep cycles, causing some to sleep much longer than “normal” and others — like me — much, much, much less. (Would another “much” be too repetitive?) Asking won’t restore the mourner’s pre-grief sleep, but it will show you’re aware of the struggle. In grieving families with young children, ask if you can take the kids for a few hours so the parent(s) can rest.
- Do you need help with [be specific in naming possible errands] that you’ve been afraid or reluctant to ask for?
I had trouble figuring out what I’d left undone until friends offered help with specific tasks. I needed (but too seldom sought) help transporting my daughter, remembering car maintenance, washing doggie (an ordeal requiring a minimum of five human hands), cleaning …
One Saturday, men and boys from church gathered in my yard and hauled more than 15 Hefty bags of debris — and a huge pile of limbs — out to to the curb. I was flabbergasted. Until I saw the tremendous difference their efforts made, I hadn’t noticed the overgrown undergrowth! (I still get teary-eyed over their labors — and the thoughtfulness behind them.)
- What sounds appetizing? Which day can I bring you [the “appetizing” dish or another item of your suggestion], or would you rather to come to my place?
Grief scrambles appetite as ferociously as sleep. On “bad” days, pouring cereal and milk into the same bowl felt like an accomplishment. On “good days,” removing plastic wrap from frozen pizza before heating (or not burning boxed macaroni and cheese) felt like I’d done “real” cooking again.
- Will you come [for a walk, to the store, to the mall, to a movie, to lunch, etc.] with me [name a specific day and time]?
Again, invitations to specific activities and times are less threatening to the bereaved than general ones. When well-meaning friends and acquaintances invited me to “do something” in the earliest weeks after the funeral, I wasn’t ready. Overwhelmed, I asked them to check back later. (Two actually did.) I needed time and space to grieve and to focus on my daughters before I worked up courage to return to “social” activities.
Questions (and actions!) such as these acknowledge you haven’t forgotten that your friend is still grieving — “even” after months have passed.