There are so many things people say and do when they encounter a widow. Before I was one, I never would have contemplated what was right or wrong to do or say, I would likely have just gone with my gut. Every person's experience with grief is different, I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but I have decided to make a list of what you should say or do, and a few things that you should not.
Saying "I am sorry for your loss." is never insufficient. The more words you say, the more likely you are to hurt or insult
"Let me know if you need anything" is something you say for yourself, it is not helpful to the widow. She has no idea what she needs, instead make an offer. Examples include: picking up groceries, doing the dishes, taking the kids for a day, getting her oil changed, cooking dinner.
If something makes you think of her, tell her! Send her the text, make the call, buy the book, forward the verse. Heck, sing her the song in your head.
Do not expect her brain to function at the same capacity it did before, even if the task at hand is completely unrelated to her husband, because everything in her life relates to her now dead husband.
Do you have a picture of her husband at home, or on your phone? Send it to her! She no longer gets to see the expressions of her husband's face change, give her the evidence of what it once was. The same goes for a video or a voicemail!
Avoiding the subject of her husband is painful. Its okay if its awkward, talk about him anyway. Is it hard for you? The situation is harder for her, I promise. The last thing she wants is to feel like he has been forgotten.
Has she called you or texted you recently? Have you responded? Did you answer? Consider that your widow friend no longer has another adult in her home. Consider the fact that she has to pick up her phone to connect to another person, which wasn't the case until her husband died. Also, it is hard for her to reach out. Respond, and do so thoughtfully.
Be genuine, if your friendship isn't genuine do not allow her to waste her time or energy on it anymore. That is the best way to be kind.
If she is talking to you, really listen. Do not listen to respond, listen to understand. I guarantee she notices how quickly you make the conversation about you.
Your newly widowed friend is probably going to be a better listener and support of you than you might expect. She no longer has someone that shares their everyday life with her.
Invite her. Don't be disappointed if she can't attend, but invite her anyway.
Hug her, hold her hand, let her rest her head on your shoulder. Human beings long for physical touch.
Have you lost your spouse? If not, do not compare your grief. No matter who you lost, its not the same.
Encourage her. You do not have to tell her that she is doing well, or that she is strong. Feel free to just say "I am here for you, I am praying for you, I love you."
If you want to compliment her, feel free, but please don't make it about how skinny she looks. She already knows she has lost 20 pounds in the last few months.
If you don't know what to say when she shares try "Thank you for sharing." I have a friend that uses this phrase and it fits almost every situation and makes sure you don't say something hurtful.
Invest time and energy into her children, especially if you are a man. She worries that they won't have a strong male role in their life. Take them fishing, play catch, build stuff, give advice, wipe tears, be strong where she can't.
Do not give advice to her unless she asks. Unsolicited advice will sound like judgment.
Do not expect her to "move past" or "get over" the loss of her spouse. She will continue on, she will move forward, but she will not "move on"
Did you have a close relationship with her husband? If so, that is great, and she is sorry for your loss, but it doesn't compare, so don't try. Her every moment is different, her future is forever changed, she has to parent grieving children as she grieves, she lost half of her heart, her security is questioned, her financial situation is altered, her life partner is absent. Your every once in a while is changed, while her every breath is. Respect that.
Lastly, pray for her. Don't stop, be intentional. Write her name on your prayer list, put it on your dashboard or your desktop. Pray the prayers she is struggling to pray. Pray for support, pray for healing, pray for peace, pray for comfort, pray for the practical, and pray for the impossible.
P.S. if any of these do nots are things you did or said to me, please don't apologize. :)