My cousin’s husband just passed away last week and I am devastated for her. This is a tough road and you learn a lot about others and yourself. My mom wanted to get her something and asked me what I received that was special or helpful. What a great question!
I had the best friends, neighbors, and family that gave me all kinds of things that were meaningful and I appreciated. There is no way I can list them all because you were all so very generous. I also asked my 8,000 widow friends to tell me their ideas. So here are the favorites, 10 meaningful gifts for a new widow.
1. Dinner for my family- my neighbors did it a few times a week for almost a year. This was amazing in so many ways that they didn’t even understand. 1. It is hard to go to the store. That sounds super crazy, but I didn’t want to see people I knew because I thought I may break down in front of them. 2. The store brings back a lot of memories- I fell apart in the cereal aisle the first time I went after Jay died and did not see that coming. 3. Making a big decision like what we were going to eat that night or for sure that week was not possible. Haha- not normally a big decision, but I couldn’t think which way was up. 4. If I can’t think of what to cook, and don’t want to go buy it, then certainly I wouldn’t be cooking it. And I am a cook. I looove it, but this was way too hard the first few months. If you can’t bring them a hot meal- maybe some frozen meals they can just throw in the oven when they want. Bring them in plastic containers you don’t need back. I wasn’t eating hardly anything because I was so sick to my stomach for months. I lost 10 pounds. All I ate were the wonderful dinners that were brought in. So yes, I would say they saved my life and my kids from starvation.
2. Something personal. A quilt from his shirts, a picture frame with him, a memory of him written down, a journal to write thoughts or letters to him, a quote, a pillow- maybe even a body pillow to snuggle up to, a teddy bear to hold and cry on, jewelry with his name on it, charm necklace, books (For 4 years I couldn’t concentrate enough to read a book, but others love it), a list of online resources, bath set. One lady said her daughter gave her a homemade coupon book good for a night out, a hug, etc.
This is what I decided to give my cousin- a pillow with a picture of her and her husband so she can hug him anytime she wants. My friend gave me and my kids one of these when my husband passed and it has been a treasure.
3. Plants. I still have some of the many plants that people gave me. I have loved them. I know it’s hard to believe I could keep a plant alive but my mom helped when she came over and plants are pretty dang hearty. I still see their vibrant green life and it reminds me that even when they weren’t watered, they still blossomed and hung on. I felt like if they can do it, so can I! To be honest I didn’t like flowers because they died a week later and it reminded me of death at this already hard time.The smell of flowers still remind me of the funeral and that’s a tough memory.
4. Gift basket. I already stated that I didn’t want to go to the store, so having people drop off baskets of food and home supplies was awesome. Matt, my husband who is a widower, said this was his favorite thing because he didn’t want to go to the store either. Things like laundry detergent, toilet paper, plastic spoons, paper plates, dishwashing detergent, shampoo, oreos, etc. My neighbor brought me a loaf of bread, cutting board, butter and homemade jam– that was one of my all-time favorites.
5. Helping with my kids. I was completely out of it myself, so taking care of 5 kids was a huge task. My friends went above and beyond in this category. Many friends had my kids walk home with their kids after school for a play date and then brought them home before our dinner was delivered:-) My friend Cynthia came to my house twice a week to help Melissa with reading for months. People brought over toys, stuffed animals, treats, pillow with Dad’s picture on it, money for college, and everything you could ever imagine for my kids and it helped so much to see their faces light up. Friends also took my carpool for the first month or so.
6. This is if you are really close to them– My parents came over for 6 hours, 3 times a week, and helped me with laundry, homework, getting kids to bed, dinner, dishes, answering phone calls, answering the door, the stacks of mail, making phone calls to get utilities, credit cards and so much more into my name, helping me with my business, fixing things in my house, cleaning, watering my plants and kids (baths). I’m sure they did way more than that- I didn’t even know what they were doing but my house felt in control when they were around. A couple of my friends came over and cleaned my house when I knew I had company coming over the week of the funeral. That was really nice. ** Important note– My friend, who became a widow 5 years before I did, taught me something very important that luckily I remembered that dreadful day of my husband’s death. When her husband died she was at the hospital, so her friends came in her house to help her clean. They changed her sheets and cleaned her room and bathroom, and her home. Normally this would be super nice BUT those sheets smelled like him, his toothbrush was not where he left it, the garbage he last touched was gone, etc. She sobbed. I know that sounds dumb, but those things are so meaningful when your loved one dies. So right when I found out my husband died I put a note on my office and bedroom DO NOT ENTER- Jay’s space. Just a couple hours later people were cleaning things in my home and I was so glad she had shared this with me years before, so they didn’t touch the things he had last touched. I left his bathroom items and office things exactly as he had left them for months. For some reason, it brought me comfort. **Another honest statement: Some people offered to come over and help, but I didn’t know them well and that would have felt awkward. I would have felt like I had to entertain them, so I politely declined. This one is reserved for the people you are very close to.
7. Music. Ah good old music! It can change my mood. I received a CD from Kenneth Cope who sang at Jay’s funeral. I listened to this CD every day for the first month when I got home from the gym and would cry and cry. Those tears were healing. Then I also had music from Itunes that I would play to boost my mood and think, “I can do hard things!” I also played music that brought back memories. Music still can do amazing things to my heart.
8. Gift cards. I didn’t need the restaurants because I had the most amazing cooks in my neighborhood, but my friends said it was their favorite for the days they didn’t want to cook, and eating was the last thing on their minds. Massage, manicure or pedicure gift cards. The gym I went to every day gave me a 90-minute massage the day before the funeral. This felt amazing and really helped calm my nerves. Other cards for gas and household items would be wonderful as well.
9. Oh I have one if you are handy… My neighbor came over months after my husband died and asked if I had changed my furnace filters. “What? My furnace has a filter?” He laughed, measured, bought them, and put them in. (huh- I wonder if those are still the ones in there?) My other neighbor did my yard work for the whole summer. I had no clue about the outdoor stuff! He taught me that in Utah you have to turn off the water in the fall. Oh, ya, and turn it on in the summer again. So much to remember!
10. A real friend. Ones that stay with you through thick and thin. This was the most common answer when I asked my question. I didn’t know until I was a widow how long it hurts. One year is just the beginning. Be there just to listen. Be there to see if they want to get out of the house with someone they feel safe with and one that if they feel they want to go home, they can tell you (been there). Be there to give them a hug and let them cry. Don’t be too ready to give advice because even if you have gone through it, grief is so different for everyone. Phone calls, texts, visits. One of my cute friends gave me her phone number and told me to call her anytime- even in the middle of the night. One night at midnight I was so so sad and I didn’t want to bug my other friends I called every night, so I called her and woke her up. She was so sweet and talked to me for 30 minutes until I could go to sleep. I just needed to hear a voice on the other end that it was going to be ok and then to hear about her stuff so I could forget my own. It helps to realize that they lost their best friend and the one they used to talk to. What they need is ongoing support and love.
I hope this helps to see what is in the new widow’s thoughts and heart. It is a really hard time- maybe the toughest thing they will ever go through. Your generosity goes a long way. It doesn’t have to cost you anything- a phone call could save the day!