Q: I live in a close-knit Upper East Side rental building, where neighbors trade phone numbers and collect one another’s packages. The woman who lives below me lost her husband in August after an illness. Since then, I’ve heard her wailing, talking and cursing to herself, clearly in despair. The neighbor below her also can hear the noises, but we don’t know how to approach this. I have offered the widow help with errands when I see her, so she knows we’re here for her, but she declines, and I don’t think that would really help anyway. Any advice on how we can handle this?
A: Grief can be a long, lonely process, made lonelier by a pandemic that has denied us opportunities to spend time with the people we love. At another time, your neighbor may have had more sources of comfort than she does now. Or, she may have a strong support network now, and just needs the space to grieve alone at home.
But you don’t know if she’s OK, and as a concerned neighbor you could certainly offer your support. Even if she has support, she may need more.
You were kind to offer help with her errands, but as you suspected, that may not be what she needs. “People don’t need help, they need company,” said Dr. Katherine Shear, founder and director of the Center for Complicated Grief at the Columbia School of Social Work. “Offering to do some errands or get things, that’s a very reasonable thing to do, but it’s not quite the same.”
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