When a Friend’s Partner Dies: How to Help

Beyond Basics

Most of us know and can navigate the protocols of honoring a loss. We go to the funeral or celebration of life. We send flowers or contribute to a charity. We send cards and notes. We make a shiva call. We bring food. And then we go home and back to our own lives. We may not think about our friend’s situation as our own lives engulf us. Or we may respond in some way we think might be appropriate. I recently had lunch with a friend whose husband had died and discovered how much I didn’t now about what she – and perhaps many others – really wanted, so I’m sharing what I learned:

Do’s and Don’ts to Consider


  • While food is generally welcome during the difficult early days of mourning, pay attention to what your friend really wants/needs. Will there be a lot of visitors in the home? Does your friend have dietary restrictions? Limited storage space? One of the nicest things I’ve seen is people sending gift cards for local restaurants or delivery services.
  • Don’t keep offering food forever. There are many other ways to show support.
  • Listen. Listen. Listen. Offer friendship or invitations to go out for coffee or a meal. Call to check in or going for walks together or find an activity to share.
  • Offer invitations to go out for coffee or a meal. Shop together. Go to a movie.
  • Help your friend plan the next phase of their life. My friend had been a caregiver for so many years that she had lost touch with most of her old activities and really had no idea what she wanted next.
  • Help your friend make lists, find services, find new contacts. Help research.
  • Be patient. Don’t push, yet keep suggesting. Some of your suggestions will be perfect, others duds.
  • If this is an old friendship, remind your friend of who they have been in the world in the past. It’s easy to forget that you had a different life before caregiving.
  • Ask. Listen. Ask.

Everyone heals in their own way and everyone helps in their own way. That’s one of those cliches that’s true. Don’t turn yourself inside out trying to be someone you haven’t been in the relationship. My automatic reaction was to think of things I could do with my friend. When I reflected a bit, though, I realized that this isn’t what our relationship has been for the past twenty years and this wasn’t really what my friend wanted from me. She wanted to augment our regularly scheduled lunches (twice a year) with the opportunity to draw on my coaching skills and get a little advice when she needed it. So, we left it at that. She know that she has my ear and my support whenever she wants it. I know that I’ll check in on her a little more often.