Q: Do you have any suggestions for how I can help a good friend whose husband just died? I'd like to support her in any way we can -- especially during the holidays.
Jim: What a grieving person often needs most is the presence of a thoughtful friend. One of the best things you can do is to listen and allow her to talk. If you want to express something, it's enough to say you care and that you're sorry. Explanations seldom console and advice is rarely helpful.
She may be angry as well as sad and needs to acknowledge, express and deal with these feelings. If it seems appropriate, don't be afraid to encourage a good cry. And be patient -- grief is a complicated process that can take a long time to work itself out. As you have opportunity, urge her to take care of herself by getting enough exercise, rest and recreation.
Practically speaking, you can make yourself available to help with daily chores and necessities. If you're running an errand, call and ask if there's anything you can pick up for her. If she has children, offer to baby-sit and go out of your way to give them special attention. Remember that they're grieving too.
Above all, don't avoid your friend. Write notes to her during especially difficult times, such as holidays and birthdays and anniversaries. You'll find that a phone call or an invitation to lunch could make her day. And if she needs a "family" for the holidays, ask her to join yours.
In the midst of all this, keep a watchful eye on your friend and make sure that she's working through her grief in a healthy way. Watch for negative warning signs like excessive sleeping or drug and alcohol abuse. If you think she needs grief counseling, don't hesitate to suggest it.
Q: Over the past few months, I've noticed that I interpret my husband's behavior in a much more negative light. Every little thing he does bothers me. Does familiarity really breed contempt?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: The assumptions we make about our spouse can determine the level of happiness we experience in marriage. When two people get frustrated with one another, but the issue is not dealt with, the tendency is for each person to develop his or her own conclusion about why the problem is happening. This is what is known as "negative beliefs." In other words, a husband or wife interprets the behavior of his or her spouse to be much more negative than the spouse intended. Whatever you believe about another person (positive or negative), you will find evidence of that belief in everything he or she says or does.
To fight negative thinking, it's important for couples to give each other the benefit of the doubt and to be aware of what their mates do that is positive and respond accordingly. Your spouse is already doing some positive things, but you may not be totally aware of them. Try to notice things your husband already does that please you. This will force you to break through the barriers that obstruct your vision of his good deeds.
I'm not advocating unrealistic, "Pollyanna" thinking. We can't sit around hoping that our mate will change truly negative behaviors. However, there can be great freedom in considering that your husband's motives, even in those things that annoy you, are more positive than you might have previously acknowledged.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program.