Q. My friend’s husband died several months ago, and she’s having a very hard time. She’s on the verge of becoming a recluse and won’t consider a bereavement group or counseling. How can I help her? I’m a widow myself, but I’ve tried everything I can think of.
Not everyone is open to joining a bereavement group or talking to a professional; we all have our own styles. It can take some of us longer than others to start on the path toward another life. And you can’t force someone to do what they don’t want to do, no matter how beneficial your suggestions may be. However, you can gently “nudge” the person in the right direction. One strategy is to make an “end run” around the person’s objection.
“You can talk about joining a group that has nothing to do with being a widow or grieving — a group that centers on an interest,” says Mary-Ellen Siegel, MSW, LCSW, a clinical instructor on the faculty of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
A widow herself, Siegel adds, “When my own husband died, I had many ready-made friends who had lost their spouses and been ‘in the foxholes,’ so to speak. Someone who doesn’t have that large circle of support might try something like a pottery workshop, which can help fill the days.” She joins as someone who enjoys working with a kiln, rather than “Jane the widow.”
Any group can serve the purpose. It’s more likely other women will attend daytime activities, and your friend might meet people who like going to the movies or a local restaurant together. Evening activities are likelier to draw men and working women.
Other possibilities include a book club, community group or a class in anything from poetry to computers. Lots of people hang out at the local library, where they can read the kinds of books they enjoy or branch out into other genres — and sometimes start conversations with others who share their interests. Volunteering is another option. Helping people also helps you feel you have a definite role and purpose in life.
Some of us are unready for therapeutic help or unwilling to hear it from others. Some want to feel they’re the only ones in the world who miss their spouse. They may believe that even other widows won’t necessarily understand them. It’s great if you can get them involved in an activity without bereavement connotations that might make them feel categorized.
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is a freelance journalist, author — and a widow herself. Her books include My Deepest Sympathies, When the Man You Love Is Ill,What Do You Say When and Just a Note to Say...The Perfect Words for Every Occasion.
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