You want to help. Your heart breaks for them but you’re not sure how to go about it. What’s the line? What’s too much and what says, “It’s not that I don’t care, I just don’t know how to be there”?
When someone in your life experiences the death of someone in their life, how do you help or show you care? I think we all know the feeling of initially hearing about the loss, feeling sad for them, then we attend the funeral and then…..and then…then what?
It’s a tricky place. I’ve seen a variety of responses with loosing my mom and watching others experience the death of a loved one. Some people completely back off from expressing or reaching out, or they say a platitude. Some people call, send a card, or show up with a meal. All of it, whether translated sensitively or not, I think, comes from a simple place of wanting to just be available and show they care.
We don’t naturally process death. When it happens our brain says “error, error, they were just physically here.” Therefore knowing how to be there for someone who is grieving may not feel natural either.
From my own grief journey, the people who didn’t ask permission to show they care, are the people who made the biggest difference (love you all).
Here’s my thoughts:
- Remove feelings of needing to be strong or together for them. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” People who expressed a combination of “I’m sorry and I miss them too,” meant so much to me, because people bond over what they love, and you all loved the same person.
- If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything (other than you care) because I think this is when platitudes happen. You know, those lines like, “At least…They’re in a better place…I know exactly how you feel…” You don’t have to say anything because words most likely, can’t describe their pain, take away their pain or answer their questions. Just give them a hug.
- If they’re deep in grief the chances are high that they don’t have much of an appetite, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to eat. Drop off their favorite snacks, or a gift card to their favorite restaurant.
- Figure out who’s in charge of the memorial and get involved. Volunteers are always needed in cleanup. They may not remember that you cleaned up, but they will remember not having to do anything afterward because their friends took care of everything, so that they could go home and rest.
- Mail them a card, letting them know you’re there when they’re ready. Getting out, fresh air, and light activity is good for the brain and the heart. Offer to go for walks or bike rides, no talking necessary. A couple months later mail them another one.
- Remember that they are most likely hurting more than they are expressing. So keep tabs on them.
- Hang out and be okay with silence. Maybe they don’t want to talk but they don’t want to be alone.
- Just listen. Maybe they have a lot to get off their chest. Be the one person who just listens without giving advice. It may feel uncomfortable to just acknowledge the sadness without a resolution. But just be.
All in all everyone grieves differently. It’s not black and white, there’s no science and as much as we’d like to make a handbook for it, we’re talking about humans. So it’s going to be tricky.
Acknowledge, listen, and be.