WidowLife Wisdom: Understanding the transition from Wife to Widow

It happened. Your sister, mom, friend, neighbor, or acquaintance has experienced the death of her husband. The days and weeks to come will be unlike any she has ever experienced. Even if she knew this day was coming, there is no way to adequately prepare for the path ahead.

Understanding that the journey through the valley of the shadow of death takes time. 

It will be tempting to box up the pain quickly to avoid the grief process. Everyone, including the widow and those walking beside her, will attempt to quickly pack up the grief in a box with a pretty bow, but this is not possible nor is it healthy. Grief is part of life. Everyone will experience a season of grief at some point.

What to expect in her transition of wife to widow and how to help:

  1. The point of death – is traumatic yet in many ways holy. The day of death changes her title, and in many ways her identity, from wife to widow. This day will become what we call the Remembrance Day, one she will acknowledge for the rest of her life. Even though the day of death is distressing, this is also the moment when God promises to step in as her covering and defender and the father to her fatherless children (Psalm 68:5).

The loss of a physical husband allows for the gain of God to be present in her life in amazing ways.

How to help:

  • Be physically present if you are in her inner circle of family and friends.
  • Pray for her.
  • Prepare to also love from a distance.
  1. The time between death and the memorial, life shifts gears and is never the same again. The world descends on her in amazing ways, surrounding her with the necessary care needed. People call, friends stop by, and she is invaded with love and support. All focus will be on the service ahead. She will need to decide if this will be called a funeral, memorial, or celebration service.

The widow goes into shock (physically, emotionally, and often even spiritually). The “grief fog” descends acting as a covering of protection that can last for the first 6-9 months.

This special activation of grace enables her to make it through some excruciating months without feeling the pain—she is often numb. During this time, people will admire her strength as she carries on as if nothing had happened.

How to help:

  • Write out memories of her husband.
  • Compile pictures and share them if she wants to see them.
  • Help her shop for clothing for the service.
  • Prepare food – a meal train helps to make sure she doesn’t get 100 lasagnas!
  • Provide nutritional snacks to have on hand. Paper products are also thoughtful.
  • Give her time to collect her thoughts for the eulogy.
  • Appoint an advocate to be with her at the funeral home.
  1. Administration of death (3-6 months). Business is not “as usual,” but she will most definitely go into business mode, attending meeting after meeting to finalize the death of her husband. Focus on this necessary aspect keeps her busy in a good way; however, it also puts off the grief process.

How to help:

  • Accompany her to these important meetings.
  • Assemble a bag of things she will need for these meetings: note pad, pen, Kleenex, phone charger, snacks, etc.
  • Put together a support squad.
  1. At 6-9 months she will start to embrace the pain. The anesthesia of shock and denial starts to wear off as the reality of being a widow sets in. It is also at this time that much of her support often disappears.

How to help:

  • Share stories and memories of her husband with her.
  • Call to let her know she has not been forgotten.
  • Offer intentional and practical help to her. Do not wait for her to ask because she won’t. See our ideas for helping her throughout the year.
  • Continue to pray for her.
  1. The one year. Leading up to the first Remembrance Day is often more tender than the day itself. She will remember every detail of the day it all happened. Understanding the emotional PMS (Pre-Memory Syndrome) will help.

How to help:

  • Anticipate the Remembrance Day with her. Don’t avoid it but rather talk with her about this tender day.
  • Assist with an intentional plan for remembering. Ask her questions that will prompt ideas of how she should spend that day. She may choose to spend it alone or desire to have support. A mixture of both is often wise.
  • Acknowledge the loss, tell her you are sorry for the pain and send a card or flowers.
  1. 18 months. It is impossible to avoid the angry stage of grief. There are moments of anger, surprise attacks, and seasons of this unwanted and uncomfortable emotion. Grief demands an answer to the pain. By this time, alone is lonely—very lonely. The widow finds herself mad at her husband for leaving her. She is mad at herself for unresolved issues. Needing help and not knowing how to maintain her home, lawn, or automobile also causes more anger to rise.

Moving forward in independence is not easy. There are times when this uncontrollable emotion rages, like a toddler tantrum with the target being a trusted friend, stranger at the grocery store, or God.

How to help:

  • Don’t panic, most likely this is normal and healthy.
  • Provide a safe place for her to share her feelings.
  • Listen without giving advice, counsel, or Bible verses that feel like “vinegar on soda” (Proverbs 25:20).
  • Remind her that she will get to the other side of the valley.
  1. Year two. For the majority of grieving people this year is the hardest. Most feel great victory after making it through the first year with the false assumption that life will resume back normal. The second year is often more painful because the shell of shock and denial is gone.

How to help:

  • Prayer support is crucial.
  • Serve her intentionally.
  • Continue to share memories of her husband with her.
  • Affirm her progress: “You are doing a great job even though I know it is hard to do this alone.”

Coming alongside the widow during this season and bringing comfort will strengthen her so she can one day comfort as comforted.