When you experience a loss, the early processing of grief is all-consuming. The natural emotions that arise from knowing you have to live life without the one you love may slow you down for quite some time. The load is heavy, and it will take a support system to carry you through the valley of the shadow of death.
It is more important than ever for you to have a safe and trusted network of assistance. God will be with you as an ever-present help and often works through the hands and feet of others. It is overwhelming to be in the position of needing help, we understand. But remember, people want to help, and you will find that having a team of support is invaluable!
How to Build a Support System:
1. Name an Advocate:
An advocate is the one who will be your organizer, confidant, spokesperson, and protector, especially in setting up helpful boundaries when necessary. Most likely this person is your dearest friend or family member who is willing, and has the time, to walk alongside of you for the few weeks, months, or even years as you find a new normal.
You may wonder why it is necessary to have someone in this position. During the first few months of the grief process, your world as you knew it will turn upside down. Even your normal routine of life can feel chaotic. Many new things will demand your attention, planning a funeral, taking care of the house, finances, and kids, all while you try to balance the heavy emotions of losing your husband. Your Advocate will be there to help you in any way necessary. They may attend meetings with you taking notes of important information. They can lighten your load by answering questions and organizing support from friends or the community at large. And of course, they will be a listening ear and shoulder for you to cry on.
2. Enlist a Support Squad:
Your Support Squad will come from your inner circle of family and friends. The Support Squad may also include someone who volunteers to help in a specific way. This squad of will consist of 3-4 people who organize, coordinate, and manage the people who want to help, but with sensitivity to your greatest needs. This team helps carry the load during your dark hours. They will help to address your practical concerns as you take the time to grieve.
Your Support Squad may find it helpful to enlist friends, family, and volunteers for specific responsibilities. The following jobs should be considered:
A. Organizer: This person will have the gift of organization and administration. This person will come in handy for the first few weeks to document calls, needs, visits, food delivery…etc. This person may very well be your Advocate. The organizer can set up the following:
- Meal Train: People LOVE to bring food! This is a great blessing if it is food that she likes and meets the dietary restrictions. Roast beef and lasagna may be yummy for the first few meals but will not be a blessing if everyone brings these meals! The organizer will make note of the widow’s favorite meals, snacks, and even comfort foods and let people know what to bring and when is the best time. Meal Train (mealtrain.com) is a great tool to organize what the family wants and when they want it.
- Assign Housework and Laundry Volunteer: Someone to oversee these two areas is a blessing, especially during the first month! Because they will be working inside of the home, the widow or advocate must approve and feel comfortable assigning the task to this specific person.
- Create a “travel bag”: The widow will have a lot of meetings to attend, financial, funeral planning…etc. This bag will help her to grab and go. Here are some things to include:
- Legal paperwork (last will, Healthcare Power of Attorney, death certificate)
- Proof of ID, insurance card
- Cash/credit/debit cards
- Prescription medication
- Cellphone charger
- Keys and garage door opener
- Pen and notebook
- Comfortable shoes
- Eyeglasses and/or hearing aids
- Light snacks, gum and/or mints
- jacket, umbrella, or extra layers based on weather conditions
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Feminine hygiene products
B. First Responder(s): This person is available for emergencies at any hour of the day. It is hard for the widow to ask for help. A list of people who have offered to serve in this way will be a great gift to her! Remember, her husband is no longer there to act in this role.
C. Childcare: Set up a team to care for her children, as needed, during the first three months when the widow mom must be away for business associated with the death. Those providing childcare must be “safe” people not only for the widow, but to the children.
Care for the children in the following ways:
- Daily Help: During the most difficult time of day i.e. 4-8 p.m., assist with dinner, baths, and bedtime. Note: It is important for the mom to tuck her children in bed but getting the children ready for this is helpful.
- Weekly Help: Enlist someone that would come once a week, on what she would call her hardest day. Weekends are normally very difficult for her. This person or couple can come to visit and help with normal tasks, she will just enjoy the company! This could be a family or close friends, or even a single woman or another widow.
- Stand-by Care: This person has flexibility to allow for unplanned meetings the widow must attend without her children.
D. Home maintenance
E. Lawn-care: If the widow does not have a lawn care service, organize a team of volunteers to maintain her yard for the first six months.
F. Auto Maintenance: Make sure her car is in good working condition—check fluid levels, tire pressure, current registration/inspection and auto insurance. Take it for a test drive, and make sure no dashboard caution lights are on. Replace tires if necessary. She may have the funds for this but not the bandwidth, the Advocate and Support Squad can assess the financial and practical situation.
G. Pets: Give someone the responsibility of caring for her pets. Temporary boarding may be a positive option during the chaos before and after the funeral. However, pets may be of great comfort so be sure to ask the widow how she feels.
These roles are ones that we have found to be tried and true over the years of widow ministry! As the widow and her team walk this journey together, roles will continue to be created and refined.