Grief and loss are complex.
We all grieve differently and we all experience loss differently. For some, grief is a gradual process that varies over time. For others, a loss could be a shock no matter how much time is given to prepare. It can start as soon as bad news is shared. Death doesn’t have to occur in order for us to begin grieving or feel the experience of losing someone, temporary or finite. Below is a list of ways to offer help and to help. A few of these might be comforting for some, where others might find them a nuisance while mourning. By no means is the list exhaustive because again, grief is complex and each person must grieve in a way that is unique to them.
- Bring in the mail, feed pets, mow yard, check house, etc.- If a friend leaves town to care and spend time with family in a hurry, these can be overlooked. It might be unnecessary, but can offer simple comfort. It can also trigger some other forgotten items in the initial shock period before leaving town. Maybe they forgot about their last Amazon order, or maybe they work from home and need you to set their messages to forward. Anything that could be left in disarray, offering to help maintain some organization in the midst of chaos can have lasting effects.
- Meals- This ranges from actual meals, picking up groceries or take-out or gift cards. Mealtrain.com is a great website to help organize a few people to contribute toward this task. You can use as much detail in setting up days and meals as needed. I personally like the feature of knowing what days to expect a meal if you haven’t already specified as the receiver.
- Take the kids out- It can be a great sense of relief to know that a friend is taking your kids out for the night, and it might be a relief for their kids too. Not everyone will like the idea of being away from their children, and that’s understandable. Perhaps offering to help with pick-up or drop-offs for the time being is more helpful. Before helping with their children and spending more time with them, it might be especially considerate to ask how they have discussed the recent loss with them, out of respect for the family. If they aren’t disclosing specific details or if there are certain religious or cultural terms they use, you might want to be prepared if their kids start talking about things, or asking questions.
- Listen, don’t talk- It’s okay to not know what to say. When a grieving friend feels ready to talk, they will let you or someone else know they’re ready and the best way to support them is by listening. It’s okay to not know how to answer questions. Try to avoid saying things like, “I know what you’re going through”; this is their loss, their grief, their emotions. Better to not say anything than unintentionally sound inconsiderate or offensive.
- Ask!- Especially in a unique situation where there is more uncertainty and confusion, the best thing to do is ask, “How can my family help your family during this time?”. You may not have to offer any availability if they tell you exactly what is helpful and unhelpful. Cultural traditions can also dictate bereavement and there could be guidelines that you are not aware of in circumstances. Asking what can be done to help will show you want to understand how to honor the family in meeting their needs after their loss.
Grief can be a private matter. Some people might decline help from all of these things. It wouldn’t be unheard of for a grieving person to want to cling to their daily routines as a distraction at first and respectfully decline help. That’s okay! Let them know you will try to be available when they need it another time. Knowing there is someone available and offering tangible support is comfort and support in itself.