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
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.
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.