Have you ever found out that someone you know has lost a person close to them, and you’ve had absolutely no idea what to do?
Given my recent experience, I’m here to help. Caveat: we all experience grief differently, so what I felt and experienced will be different to everyone else. However, I asked my Mum and my sisters for what helped them and what really didn’t after my Dad died, and here’s a summary of our thoughts. Let’s start with the negatives, this being a generally negative situation and all.
Things you shouldn’t do for the first few days
Don’t call around
Unless you’re a) immediate family or b) leaving cake on the door step and then leaving straight away. If you are not, you will probably be met with a silent wall of people in their pyjamas, glaring at you from puffy, tear stained faces. They will not be in a place where they’re happy to receive visitors, and you shouldn’t impose yourself upon them.
Don’t start any sentences with the words “at least”
No. There is no at least. Don’t try and put a positive spin on a situation that there’s literally nothing positive about. This one applies for quite a few weeks, actually.
Don’t be selfish
Don’t go to visit the bereaved person solely to unload your shock and/or grief about the situation, particularly if your relationship to the deceased wasn’t as close as the person you’re dumping it all on. However, if you were both close to the person then sobbing into each others arms is entirely appropriate. Go ahead.
Don’t babble about your first world problems
Steer clear of any topics that might come under the heading of ‘life’s too short’. I don’t want to hear that your hairdryer broke this morning, or that you’re off to get your son’s bassoon mended. I understand that people get nervous and say anything that comes into their head, but if in doubt say silent, give a hug or pat an arm. I developed a severe case of the sod-it’s in the days following, and was inclined to be a little short with people. Mix the two together = not a very polite combo.
Don’t send flowers
This one’s controversial, because a lot of people love flowers. However. In the days following my Dad’s death, we had so many flowers that we ran out of vases, started sneezing from all the pollen, and spent a significant part of our limited mental capacity and time on cutting, trimming, arranging and watering all these flowers. You couldn’t move for flowers.
And then they all started to die…
This seems like a really ungrateful thing to complain about, and I know people meant well and I did appreciate the gesture, but practically speaking we’d have much, much rather had cake or a meal cooked for us.
Footnote: If you absolutely must send flowers, at least make them cheerful and/or meaningful. I loved the bright gerberas my friend gave me, and the arrangement pictured was picked from the hedges along our road by a dear neighbour, and sat in the church at my Dad’s funeral. It meant a lot to have a piece of the home he loved for so long there.
Here’s what you can do
Do send a card, a text or a letter
Even if they can’t or don’t get back to you straight away, it’ll help to know you’re thinking of them.
Keep It Simple
I personally found a honest and straightforward approach to be the one I responded to the best. People who said, I’m sorry for your loss, I’m thinking of you, I’m praying for you (where applicable…), I’m here for you if you want to talk, let’s meet up when you’re ready, or simply just acknowledged the awfulness of the situation. People who shared a nice memory, or offered to come to the funeral. I also particularly appreciated when friends offered to just come and sit with me, even travelling long distances to do so. One of my fondest memories from the time is of a friend who took me shopping for a black dress; such a hideous task, made a little brighter.
Offer specific help
It’s great to say “please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help”, but the person may feel bad about accepting (or just so all over the place they can’t identify what they need). Even better is to identify a need for them, for example cooking meals, or lifts to appointments with funeral directors, and ask them if it’s ok for you to do that thing specifically. The people who did this for us were absolute godsends.
Send a care package
One of my besties sent me the best care package EVER which arrived the day after. Impressive work. It contained gluten free brownies, which I basically existed solely on for a few days, a colouring book and pencils, face wipes, tissues, hot chocolate and marshmallows, sweets, and packets of instant rice. And best of all, a beautiful card. Amazing.
Send anything other than flowers
Ideas of what you can send, other than a card or care package: a supermarket food delivery, a takeaway meal, a truckload of snacks and cakes, a photo of the person who’s passed away – even better if the photo is of them with the person you’re sending it to, and/or it’s framed, a house plant, a voucher for a shrub that could be planted in memory, nice toiletries, something relating to a hobby of theirs, or a good book – even if they don’t read it now, it’s something nice to look forward to.
Are there any tips you’d add to the list?