"Ask Zoe" is Aleteia’s advice column addressing the every day decisions we make and how faith informs and guides them. If you have a dilemma, question, or need some general advice for your life, email Zoe. All questions are given consideration and names are withheld.
One of our neighbors lost his wife one week ago and I’d like to be helpful, but I’m not sure how to do that. This particular neighbor is an acquaintance, who we’ve only had casual contact with here and there. When I saw him at his wife’s viewing, I told him to let us know if he needed anything—but I don’t expect to hear from him since he doesn’t even have our phone number or email address. I don’t want to be intrusive, but it appears the man is now home alone and could perhaps use some extra support. Do you have any suggestions?
Dear Christian Neighbor,
It’s kind of you to want to reach out to a new widower. Even if he has a lot of support from family and friends, I’m sure he still appreciates thoughtful neighbors—who doesn’t?
When a loved one dies, it’s overwhelming. At first, it’s a whirlwind. It’s when things begin to die down that the grief and loss tend to really set in. It’s an exhausting time and sometimes difficult for people to know what to ask for from willing helpers. A general comment such as, "just let us know if we can do anything" is thoughtful, but not specific enough to warrant much of a response from someone in the throes of grief.
I suggest starting with small gestures. You could drop off a meal or extra batch of muffins or bread to him. If you’re heading out to shovel your driveway or rake leaves, knock on his door and ask if you can do the same for him. Hand him a note with your number and email on it and remind him that you would like to be of help. Small acts of service like these can lead to more communication and you might be able to ascertain his needs a bit better. Maybe he’d like a ride somewhere every so often, or perhaps he would appreciate being invited over for coffee.You can always offer your prayers, too. Consider brining him a Mass card, especially if he’s Catholic. At such times, a mention of prayer is usually apprecaited—even by agnostics.
The needs of those in mourning are frequently the same as the needs of parents with a newborn: healthy food brought to the house, errands, such as grocery store runs, assistance with chores— all the practical things that need to get done, but are hard to attend to when you’re exhausted, overwhelmed, and distracted.
Being a good neighbor is an opportunity to bring God’s love to others. We need more kind neighbors in this world—they make such a difference in the quality of our lives and help us stay connect us to the wider world. Kudos to you for taking that role seriously.
If you have a dilemma or question for Zoe, please send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Zoe Romanowsky is the Lifestyle Editor and Video Curator for Aleteia. A freelance writer, blogger, and consultant, she’s been published in many national publications including Real Simple, Catholic Digest, Baltimore Eats, and TruthAtlas. Zoe holds a Masters degree in Counseling from Franciscan University, and a certification in life coaching from the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). She’s an urban homeschooling mother of twins with a weakness for dark chocolate, Instagram, vintage Harleys, and vodka martinis—not necessarily in that order.