If anyone has noticed my silence the past three weeks, it’s in the largest part due to a sudden death in our family. My husband’s mother, my children’s Ganna, unexpectedly passed away shortly after her 60th birthday. The last while has been a whirlwind of the overwhelming aftermath such a sad and sudden event leaves behind. This experience is not entirely new to me, having lost my own mom far too early and quickly in 2006 when she was only 44 years old. Every loss is different, though, in the same way that every person is unique and every family dynamic is all it’s own. Anyway, going through this loss with small children of our own has given me another perspective on grieving, loss and the process of laying a loved one to rest.
When a friend loses someone close to them, we are often left wondering what we can say or do to make things better. Truth is, there is nothing that can take away the sorrow or fill the void left by death. There are some things that can bring a measure of comfort, help the family feel less alone, and let them know you truly, actively, deeply care about them in a way that words alone just can’t express. You may never know the impact your small gesture made in helping a grieving person make it through. You don’t have to have a lot of time or money to let the bereaved know you are there and care. I’m going to share some ideas of ways you can help ease the transition into life after loss. Some are pretty conventional, some not so much. Hopefully you will find something you can use.
Children: I’d never been through the loss of a close relative as a parent of small children, so this opened my eyes to some ways to bless the grieving that I hadn’t thought so much about previously. Offer to help with the children in the immediate family. It may be babysitting while they make arrangements, keeping them occupied during visitation, letting them sit with you during the funeral or just offering to be on standby in case the parents realize that they do need help at some point. Busy gifts to occupy children quietly. Give the little ones “busy bags”. Some parents won’t realize how hard it is for little ones to behave through all of the tedious rituals they don’t truly understand, and won’t come prepared. Things you could include: crayons or colored pencils, coloring book, sketch pad, stickers, candy or packaged snacks that are not messy (super important detail, so I’m repeating: NOT MESSY!!! ;) ), a small stuffed animal, or any small quiet & clean activities. My daughter literally colored almost the entire time we were having visitation, and gave a picture to nearly everyone who came. She said it was to make everyone feel less sad about her Ganna going to Heaven.
Pictures: Pictures are such an important thing when you are remembering someone who once lived life with you. Many people now do a photo montage at the viewing. If they need help scanning or copying photos so that they aren’t leaving originals with the funeral home, this is a way you could help. If you have a great picture in your personal collection of the recently departed, that would be an extremely meaningful gift to include with a sympathy card or just to give to them. When someone has passed away, you will never be able to take another picture of them, so this is a way of getting a new memory when you thought there were no more.
Music. If the family is going to use recorded music and you have a knack for finding and burning just the right version of that perfect song, offer your services to help them. Chances are that they are overwhelmed and don’t really have the time to search it out. Just make sure that you communicate clearly and definitely have the songs they really want played.
Food. Families who just lost someone dear to them often forget to eat, and certainly don’t have the desire to cook. If there is good food sitting there, they are likely to eat it just so it won’t go to waste, and it will keep them going. See where they need it most: At home, during visitation or after the funeral. After all, everyone needs to eat, whether they feel like it or not.
Financial: Something we rarely think about is the financial burden a death can bring to family. It’s not only paying for the funeral, but lost work, gas money, and other incidentals that are unplanned. This is not a big deal if you are financially secure, but can be an added devastation if you are barely scraping by to start with. Ways you can help with this when you know the family is struggling? Let them know you included money, a gift card or a gas card in your sympathy card. Buy a small potted plant to hand deliver instead of a big arrangement from a florist, and give the difference, if you feel you still want to give flowers and can’t do both.
Sharing memories. In the weeks and months following a loved one moving on, the family settles into their new life without a significant part of their daily existence. Everyone else moves on, and often forgets they are still grieving and adjusting. Write a letter about a fond memory of the person who is no longer with them, and send it to them. Write a card letting them know you’re thinking of them. Dig out the pictures I mentioned before and share them. Visit and talk about the good times. Remember.
Death is never easy. Grieving is complicated. Noone should have to go through it alone. If you are reading this, you know someone who has lost someone dear to them. If you haven’t already, you will most likely lose someone one day yourself. We will all have our turn to move on. Show compassion, be a blessing, do what you can for others while you still can. Live life while you are living, and love on those who are still here with you. Peace!