How to lovingly help a widow

Carol Cornish was devastated when she lost her husband of 38 years to lung cancer. Now, she seeks to encourage other widows and to equip churches, families and friends to help those mourning the death of their spouse

Just as a raging flood can sweep away your home if you are in its path, widows face a deluge of emotions and life changes that can devastate them and threaten to sweep away their sense of stability.  What can you do to help a woman in this situation?  How can you be a source of support to her? 

Whether it is someone in your family or a friend, try to offer the widow real encouragement and hope.  Many people find that they are uncomfortable around the grieving and do not know what to say or do, but the best way to help a widow is simply to get to know her well.

Visit in her home so you can discern what may be needed.  Widows often need help in two main ways: they need to be comforted and encouraged, and they probably need help with tasks around the house.  Let’s consider the latter first.  Depending upon the widow’s health, she may need assistance with tasks like home maintenance, food shopping, transportation to medical appointments, and other routine duties.  Offer to help her with these tasks, but be sure to do so with tact and courtesy.

In order to comfort her spirit, minister the “one anothers” and “each others” of the New Testament to her.  For example – be devoted to one another, honour one another, love one another, offer hospitality to one another, be kind and compassionate to one another, serve one another in love, and so on.  We read in James 1:27 – “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” 

Looking after a widow involves concern for her total well-being.  Include her as part of your family if her own family is absent or inattentive.  Will she be alone on holidays?  Ask her. 

One of the best ways to minister the love of Christ to a widow is to simply listen attentively.  She may not have many people who are willing to take the time and expend the energy needed to really hear her.  The loss of a spouse is highly disrupting and confusing.  A widow needs people with whom she can talk to sort out her thoughts and emotions. 

If she confides in you, be sure to keep what you are told confidential.  Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to give you grace to keep those things to yourself.  Gossip is a serious sin and a grieving widow needs to be spared the pain of having her confidences spread around a community.

Allow her to express her grief especially with tears.  Sadness, even profound sadness, is normal after this deep a loss.  The presence of caring friends can help prevent the sadness becoming depression.  A widow will be less tempted to slide into self-pity if the love of her friends is showered upon her.

You and your church can plan ways to help the widows in your congregation.  During my husband’s illness and after his death, here is how my church helped me:

•    prayer – congregational prayer for us on Sunday mornings, with my husband and me in our home, in small group meetings – consistent, fervent prayer from the leadership of my church and from people in the congregation; after his death the prayers continued both in Sunday service and in my home
•    consistent contact – e-mail, phone calls, cards, visits – we knew we were not alone in the struggle against cancer and failing health; after my husband’s death the contact continued
•    meals – and other offers of practical help; our assistant pastor even loaned me a dehumidifier to dry out a wet basement
•    the support of other widows – they were my beacon in the darkness, showing me how to go on. They frequently invited me to their homes and to have meals out.

The church my sister attends has a sign-up sheet in the lobby for anyone who needs help with mowing grass, raking leaves, and shovelling snow.  The church then provides the workers for helping with these tasks.  What a powerful and practical way to show the love of Christ!  What a powerful witness to neighbours and communities! 

Those in church leadership who are responsible for the care of members need to respectfully and sensitively ask the widow if she needs financial help.  As economic times worsen, widows may be more vulnerable and in need of monetary gifts.  Church leaders also need to find out whether her family members are in contact with a widow and if they are caring for her.  If they seem to be neglectful, explore with them what they think their role is in caring for her. The extended family may need some gentle instruction and encouragement to fulfill their obligation to her.

If she resides in a care home, she is still the church’s responsibility.  Be sure to visit on a regular basis and find out how she is being cared for.  Ask her questions about the care and services provided.  Make sure the staff knows that you look in on her on a frequent basis.  Any faithful widow left truly alone is the church’s responsibility. The church must be her advocate so that she is not neglected.

The best way to sum up how to help a widow is to ask yourself – how can I be a faithful friend to this widow?  If I were in her situation, what would I want others to do for me?  What will it look like for me to live out the love of Christ to this widow? You may find yourself building a sweet friendship from which you learn, grow, and receive many blessings yourself.

Read more about the experience of widowhood in Carol’s book The Undistracted Widow (IVP ISBN 978 1 84474 491 6 £8.99)