Meeting with a group of military widows, I listened to their stories and the cries of their heart in their new life alone. The list of how we can help could be long. I’ve tried to condense those into these 9 tips.
1. Stay connected. They loose much of their ‘community’ without the military connection of their husbands. Even in their church, many feel invisible. A likely geographical move may heighten their sense of isolation at this vulnerable time.
2. Please don’t judge me! Grief makes any widow feel crazy at times, and behavior– well–emotions are intense. Decisions are influenced by the nature of their husband’s death, their age, their children’s needs, and so much more. Even others within the military community might not understand. Certainly those outside of the military community should not presume to understand all they are experiencing.
3. Don’t assume that your political views are shared by the surviving family of the service member killed in combat.
4. Don’t assume that ‘family’ means ‘biological family.’ Military widows told me that their military family became primary family to them. They understood, helped pack, connected during long deployments, and even after loss, were the family they needed nearby.
5. Realize that money and other benefits don’t mean financial security. Even widows who’ve been writing checks at home may not be well versed in investing insurance needed for the long run. Yes, ‘vultures’ appear who have a ‘great plan’ for that widows money.
6. Don’t ask specifics about their husband’s death! This is private information. They will only share it with those close to them who have earned their trust. To ask about injuries is simply rude. Curiosity is about your curiosity, not their comfort and their needs.
7. Chaplin does not mean spiritual advisor. Increasingly military support services upon widowhood can not be Christ centered. The widow’s hunger for spiritual support and encouragement will not come through traditional military channels.
8. Recognize that her identity was greatly invested in her husband’s career. The uniform represented stability, security, and provision. That is gone and with it the sense of all three. Her future depends on her choices to replace the source for those in her life.
9. What she’d most like to hear are these words: “What do you need today?”