Be careful when helping neighbours whose spouses die

Q: A few days ago, our neighbour’s husband died. It was not entirely unexpected because he had been ill for some time, but it was still difficult for my neighbour.

I would like to reach out to her but I am a touch reluctant to do so. We are new to the district. We left the farm a few short months ago to move into town and we have not had time to get to know this family very well. Out of respect for both our neighbour and her husband we went to the funeral but I am always worried lest we run interference with her and her family by intruding into their spaces rather than being supportive for this difficult time.

A: I understand that you are neither part of your neighbour’s extended family or closely involved in her community social circle but I still think that you should arm yourself with a basket filled with freshly baked cinnamon buns and ring your neighbour’s doorbell. Just make sure that you listen as carefully as you can to your neighbor when she opens the door. If she is at all reluctant to invite you in, drop off the cinnamon buns and politely retreat back to your own home. If, on the other hand, she invites you in, you can readily accept the invitation, but only if you continue what you were doing when you rang the doorbell, and that is listening to her. You are not there to share with her some of your experiences with family members who have died and you are not there to chat casually about who is who in the neighbourhood. You are there to support her, to encourage her and, as I said, to listen to her.

Let me put this into perspective. In this country, we tend to abandon those who are grieving after the funeral is over. No one is doing anything wrong. It is simply that family and friends have to return to their normal daily responsibilities once they have shared their love and support with those who are grieving the immediate loss of a significant partner. The problem is that the immediate moment after the funeral is very often the most difficult time for the griever.

After her husband died, she very likely was busy making arrangements for the funeral, putting together a loving script for his obituary and making sure that everyone in her family knew when and where the funeral was to be held.

Those commitments served as distractions from the full impact of her husband’s death. But that full impact is not to be denied and with the distractions gone your neighbour could very well be struggling with the loneliness that only the death of someone so close to her can bring. What could be more tender for her than a friendly neighbour, willing to listen to her grief and sharing with her freshly baked cinnamon buns? I hope that you will stop in at her house.

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