By Rachel Hoeing
The most difficult part of giving support to a friend who has suffered a loss is that everyone grieves differently. Some people want to be alone, others want to be with friends, some cry all day long, and others don’t cry until a full year after the incident. The best I can do is share what worked for me in hopes that it will give ideas and suggestions to those of you who have a friend in need. If you have suffered a loss or gone through a difficult time, please add your comments at the end and tell us what helped you in your time of need.
I dealt with the loss of my mom this past August and my father just three months later in November. During these times of grief, our friends and family were in one word – amazing. I am still finishing up thank you notes and I couldn’t be happier to have something that wonderful on my “to do” list. Here are some of my best words of advice based on what friends and family did for me. Of course you are not expected to do all of these! Just one will let your friend know you care.
Be sure to acknowledge your friend’s loss in some way (many examples will be included below). Even if it is tough for you to talk about or the friend to talk about, it hurts even more when people act like nothing happened. A simple “I’m so sorry” works every time.
- Ask if they want to talk about it
In my case, I always want to talk about it, but many others do not. Don’t be afraid to just simply ask if they are up for talking about things. If not, they will let you know. But if they do want to talk, nothing is better than a friend’s shoulder to cry on.
- Attend the funeral
Prior to the death of my parents I had no idea how much this meant to the person who suffered the loss. You often hear people say, “I just don’t like funerals, so I don’t go.” But in reality, does anyone like funerals? Remember that day is not about you, it is about the person who has suffered the loss and about honoring the person who has passed. I can tell you from my personal experience that nothing can warm a heart more than looking up while standing in that receiving line and seeing the face of a friend. I am sure many others would agree with me that I would never expect someone to cancel a trip or cause an extreme inconvenience to attend the funeral, but if it is possible for you to be there … go.
- Send a card
Many people do not know what to say at times like these, so let the card speak for you. It is an inexpensive and easy way to let someone know you are thinking about them. Whether you include a long hand-written note, or simply sign your name, the gesture will mean a lot.
- Reach out
Send a text, send an email or leave a message. Be prepared that it may be quite some time before that email, text or call may be returned. Not only is the friend receiving numerous words of comfort from many others, but he/she simply might not be up for talking at this time. The feeling of being overwhelmed can last a very long time. But just reaching out will mean a lot to the friend and give them comfort that you have thought about him/her.
- Take them a meal
This was an amazing gesture on the part of my friends. I did not cook for two months and it was so nice to have that one item off my plate during this difficult time. It is usually easiest if one friend will take the reins and organize a calendar. Then anyone who would like to bring a meal can contact this person. There are numerous websites that make this very simple: www.takethemameal.com, www.foodtidings.com, and www.caringmeals.com are three that I have used before. My friends also included a note on the website that told friends that a cooler would be sitting on my porch so that people could drop off meals at their own convenience on their specified day. This takes a lot of pressure off both parties to have to coordinate a time for drop-off. The person who has experienced the loss is obviously going to have some tough days, so this idea of a cooler is also nice so that they do not need to come to the door if they are sleeping or resting.
- Gifts and Flowers
These are obviously appreciated, but never expected. One gift I received was a house cleaning that my friends gave me while I was in Charlotte caring for my mom. I came home to find a sparkling house and it was amazing. Yes, it made me cry! I received many other thoughtful and generous gifts. Some of these may give you ides: necklaces that symbolized my mom or dad, plants, flowers on holidays that I normally would have spent with them, cards that let me know that a prayer service was offered in their honor, grief books, windchimes, certificates to go out to eat, massage gift cards, daily meditation books, a gift card to experience Great Wolf Lodge with the family, and so many other amazing thoughtful ideas.
- Donate to the specified Charity
Most obituaries will include a charity or venue where friends can send a donation in lieu of flowers. These places will send the family a note letting them know that you have made a donation in their loved one’s memory.
- Tell them a story
If you decide to send a card or email, share a story about an experience you had with the person who passed on. I learned so many things about my mom and dad from their friends who sent me emails and cards, and every single story made me smile.
- Offer to watch the kids
If the friend has children, tell her you would like to take her kids for a few hours to give her a break. If you say, "let me know what I can do" your friend will usually say, "nothing." Instead, be very specific. Call and say something like, "I am free on Friday from 9am - 1pm. I would like to pick up your kids for a few hours and drop them back off when we are done playing." You can also try to coordinate this through the spouse in case the friend is not up for chatting.
- Don’t judge
I had to learn this myself too, as I realized that my sister and I grieved completely opposite from one another. Whether the grieving person locks herself in a room or decides to buy a new yacht, just know that they are not themselves at this time. Let them work things out the way they need to. From what I learned at Hospice, unless someone is attempting to hurt themselves or someone else, whatever they choose to do at this time is considered “normal” for the grieving process.
Lastly, keep in mind that although life goes on and your friend may seem to be fine, the hurt never goes away. In some instances like my own, I am now crossing a new hurdle as we sort through my parents’ belongings, work on legal matters, and sell their home. This is not only physically draining, but is one of the most emotional things I have even been through. So although many months have passed and the shock of their deaths is not as strong, the reality is still very fresh. Once again, a card or email to let your friend know you are thinking of them, even many months or years after the loss, can be wonderful. You never know when a card will arrive in someone’s mailbox on the day they may need it the most!