Helping Your Sister Through Grief After Her Husband Dies

How do you comfort your grieving sister after the death of her husband? These five ways to help a family member grieve are inspired by a brother’s comment. His sister’s husband died several months ago, and she hasn’t been coping well with the grieving process.

“Thanks so much for writing about feeling scared to grieve on She Blossoms,” said Gary on What to Do When Grieving Feels Scary and Overwhelming. “My sister lost her husband, it was a tragic death at home that is very painful for her.  It’s been several months, and she’s still overwhelmed with loss and grief. I want to help and comfort my sister but I don’t know how to offer emotional support. I don’t know what to say or do. Could you give me some advice on how to help a grieving family member? Thanks, Laurie.”

First, I’m so sorry to hear about your family’s loss. I can’t imagine how painful it is for your sister to lose her husband to a tragic death (he took his own life). I don’t know what your sister is going through or feeling. My sympathies to her, you, and your whole family. I’ll share what I have, but I encourage you to get more in-depth help. It’s important to get all the support you can, as you walk through the grieving process with your sister.

If you call an grief support line or attend a family grief group, you’ll get specific suggestions. Your family dynamics will change how you comfort and support your sister. Some families are open and expressive through the grieving process, while others are more sedate and quiet. 

How you help you sister through grief also depends on her relationship with her husband. I encourage you to call a suicide hotline and/or a grief counselor. Consider getting in-person guidance and support; this type of grief isn’t something you can get fast tips or quick online help for. 

5 Ways to Help Your Sister With the Grieving Process

My articles —  especially the ones on loss and grieving — are broken up into five different categories. This offers a holistic approach to life and relationships. I write about the whole woman: Spirit, Heart, Soul, Body, and Brain. And, the separate Blossom Tips help you identify which works best for you.

1. Spirit – Sit in silence with your sister

Helping Your Sister Through Grief After Her Husband Dies

Ways to Help Your Sister With the Grieving Process

The Holy Spirit of God brings peace, love, and strength when we need it most. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, take time to sit in silence. Open your heart and mind to God’s presence. Listen for His still small voice — for He will give you wisdom and guidance. He will show you how to comfort your sister after her husband’s death.

If you seek Him with all your heart and mind, God will show you specific ways to help your sister through the grieving process. Take a deep breath, and allow your spiritual self to overcome your anxious mind and tense body. Bring a calm, relaxed, peaceful presence to your sister. Bring a sense of God’s peace and presence. This will help her cope with the grief of her husband’s death more than anything.

2. Heart – Allow healing to be ongoing

Grief is an emotional wound that never goes away. It lightens and the pain fades, but the loss remains. Your sister’s husband’s death was a painful and traumatic shock, and she will live with it forever. Don’t expect her to “get over” the grief, and don’t assess (or judge) her grieving process. Allow her to grieve at her own pace, in her own way. 

It’ll take a long time for your sister to recover and start to feel normal again after her husband’s death; let her go at her own pace. When I say a “long time,” I mean years. Death isn’t something we ever really heal from, and a husband’s decision to take his own life is traumatic. Allow her grieving and healing process to be an ongoing part of her — and your life.

3. Soul – Look for creative ways to grieve

I recently interviewed a bereavement counselor for an article on helping family members through the grieving process. She said a “family lantern” is one of their grief group activities. Family members create a collage of photos, stickers, and mementos for a lantern that commemorates a loved one’s death.

If your sister is artistic, consider finding a creative way to express her grief. Do an internet search for “grief art activities” or even “expressive arts therapy for the grieving process.” Considering looking for whimsical, light-hearted activities that will help her through the pain — if this fits with your sister’s personality and interests. Sometimes creative people need encouragement to pick up the paintbrush, pen or knitting needles to help them when they feel overwhelmed by the grieving process.

4. Body – Invite her for walks, hikes, sails

Keeping active is one of the healthiest ways to cope with the grieving process; physical activity increases natural “feel good” endorphins and happy hormones. Going for walk, bike ride, or even a sail around the harbor won’t erase the grief your sister feels after her husband’s death…but it may give her a different perspective.

How can you incorporate movement into your time with her? Consider taking a yoga class together, or even a dance class. Grieving widows don’t always have energy or motivation to get out of the house and get a different perspective, so one way to help your sister through grief is to encourage her to get physically active. 

5. Brain – Learn about the grieving process

Widows and other mourners typically want to talk about their death husbands and lost loved ones. So, don’t be afraid of bringing up your sister’s husband, habits and memories. Many widows feel alone and isolated, and don’t have anyone to talk to about their lost spouses. People aren’t comfortable talking about death, which leaves widows alone in their grief. Talk to your sister about her husband, his death, and her feelings. More importantly, listen to how she feels. Let your sister talk about how her husband died. Let her cry.

Helping Your Sister Through Grief After Her Husband DiesRead books about dying, death and the grieving process. This will help you understand the grief a widow feels after her husband dies. 

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant is a popular, valuable resource that will help you learn about the grieving process. Your sister may benefit from this book as well, especially since Sandberg wrote it in response to her own husband’s death.

And, remember that your mere presence is extremely valuable to your sister. You don’t have to “do” anything but be there, with your arm around her.

For more insight into your sister’s grief after her husband’s death, read The First Valentine’s Day After Your Husband’s Death.

What do you think? Your comments – big and little – are welcome below! I read every comment, but don’t worry: I won’t give advice or tell you what to do about how to help your sister through grief after her husband’s death. It’s your turn to talk.

Remember: You have a source of wisdom that goes far above me, and you’ll listen to His voice when you’re ready. Then, your faith will give you the strength and courage you need to walk beside your sister into the next season of life.


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6 thoughts on “Helping Your Sister Through Grief After Her Husband Dies”

  1. My sisters husband was killed in a tragic ski accident about 3 weeks ago. We do not live in the same state so i fly there the day I heard. I spent the first 10 days with her and then had to go home and return to work. Since being away I’ve felt utterly useless to help. I call and text her everyday and she barely responds. She’s never been one to be attached to her phone so it’s a bit hard to get in touch. I feel a little jealous because her husbands family is right there in the same city taking care of her every day. I want to fly back soon but work unfortunately gets in the way. I want to help and make sure she has what she needs but I feel helpless being so far away. Any advice on how to help her from afar would be greatly appreciated.

    1. I’m you lost your brother-in-law, Kristin, and that you can’t be there for your sister the way you want. It is difficult to comfort and console someone when you aren’t in the same city! Even when you live nearby, it’s still hard to know what to say and how to help.

      Your texts and phone calls are probably more helpful and comforting than you realize. Your sister is coping with a huge, shocking, devastating loss — and grieve requires a lot of energy. She was never one for the phone, which means she may be even less inclined to pick it up now.

      I encourage you to read Sheryl Sandberg’s Plan B book, about coping with the death of her husband. She’s also done many interviews, podcasts, radio appearances, etc. She offers great insight into how to help a woman cope with her husband’s death. Her wisdom will help you support your sister through grief. Your sister will never “get over” her husband’s death, but you can be with her as she grieves. Learn how other women cope with grief, and how they would’ve liked to be supported.

      I also encourage you to consider scheduling another visit in a month or two. I have heard widows say that after the first flurry of condolences and sympathy, people tend to move on with life. They forget about the pain of a husband’s death. Your sister may need you more in a month or two. Right now, maybe it’s good to let her husband’s family comfort and console her. You might be especially helpful and supportive after the worst of the shock and pain has passed.

      Be kind to yourself, and know that your presence is more helpful to your sister than you realize.

      You might also consider inviting her to visit you, if possible, or meeting her halfway. She might need to get away from home, for a change.


  2. Thank you for your wisdom. I’m struggling with comforting my sister through her grief. Her husband passed away suddenly. And we were raised like the sisters in Frozen. She was like Elsa and I was like Anna. I have different points of view and yet when I show her I care it doesn’t fit her lifestyle. I feel rejected and alone. I still visit her but it seems futile. I’ll pray for more insight.

  3. I enjoyed your article, my older sister lost her husband on July 2nd of this year from an aneurysm, it was unexpected they had been together for 54 years and married for 48 she is just lost and beside herself we talk everyday several times a day I stayed with her for 12 days but then she asked me to leave so I guess you probably needed time for herself. I live in Florida and she lives in Georgia so we’re not able to see each other every day but we speak several times I just tell her I love her and when I wish I could do something for her and we cry all the time together and that helps I think she is in grief counseling but it’s still just so heartbreaking she’s just so lost.

  4. Thank you for being here, Mark – and I am so sorry for your loss. What a tragedy, so difficult to understand. My sympathies are with you and your family.

    I had few thoughts while reading your comments. I don’t know if this will help you and your sister through the grief, but it might give you a bit of hope:

    Where Was God When This Happened to Me and My Family?

    May you, your sister, and your family find healing and hope. May you move through grief, even though the darkness may seem so heavy now that her husband has died. May you find fresh sources of love, guidance and peace.

    In sympathy, with love,

  5. I still feel depressed and shocked about my brother in law’s death – why did God allow that to happen to me and my family? My sister prayed to God for so long, and yet her husband died. I prayed too, but where was God when it happened? I don’t know. I’ll never know and I’ll never forgive God for letting that man die. My family and I will never get over this.