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a girl lives in brooklyn
An article on helping grieving friends showed up in my Twitter feed recently. It’s good, go read it. It was also a reminder that I had wanted to do one of my own. Death is an experience we will all deal with at some point in time, if not others then certainly our own. Yet, no on likes talking about it. There was a lot of help offered to me when I was dealing with the loss of my dad last summer, yet I didn’t actually know what I needed. Or what I would need. So here are some suggestions based on my particular experience of what to do for a grieving friend.
Generally, don’t ask what you can do; just think of something useful and do it. For some reason, we have been taught to always ask permission before doing something nice for someone. Surprises are often thought of negatively. Or we’re afraid that the person won’t be home to accept a delivery, or will be to stressed out to care. Maybe the person is traveling and you don’t know where to send a care package, flowers, or food.
This is when it’s important to remember that your gesture isn’t really about the gift at all; it’s about the love and support behind it.
My dad’s health turned very suddenly last August a day after he was put into hospice care. It is impossible to know how the endings of lives will go. Some of our loved ones hang on, wanting to spend as much time with us as possible. Others get their fill and let go. My friend had gone through a long drawn out ending process with a grandparent and knew how stressful living at a hospice center with someone dying could be. Even though she did not know how long I was going to be there, she immediately sent out a care package to the center. On her own, she looked up the name of the center (as there was only one in the city) and sent the package, without ever asking me anything at all.
Unfortunately/fortunately for everyone, my dad let go soon after I was able to see him. I was out of the center by the next morning and back in the hotel room. No one could predict this. While laying on the hospital bed trying to wrap my head around what just happened, I received an email. It was from this friend and the subject was “A care package if you want it”. She openly & honestly stated that she had sent me a care package directly to the hospice center but if it was too difficult for me to go pick up (emotionally, logistically, or otherwise), that that was okay. She explained honestly that her feelings would not be hurt and it was filled with items that anyone dealing with a sick relative could use. I was extremely grateful for the care package and for her honesty so I hadn’t felt obligated to pick it up. She was honest in her sentiment that it wasn’t about the gift but the love behind it.
Don’t worry about “where should I send something?”, just send something. Anything. Although the care package was wonderful and extremely helpful, the cards I received meant just as much. Knowing that a friend took the time to think of me, despite not really knowing what to do, just sending a card saying “I’m here” meant the world. Losing my dad made me feel very alone. This was something that was only happening to me. Knowing that others were there for me and understood really helped.
To this day, I am grateful for all of the support and people who reached out to me. I received so many “let me know if there is anything I can do” offers. The trouble is, I honestly didn’t know what I would need help with. It was such a new situation. And every loss is different. Depending on the person, the circumstances.
One thing that didn’t occur to me was just how much my brain would stop working afterward. The term “mommy brain” is coined but there really needs to be a “grieving brain” (which is probably just “depressed brain” now that I think about it). When I got back home from traveling at the end of August, I couldn’t believe that the world had continued going on this whole time. I didn’t know how I was supposed to function. It didn’t make sense that I was still expected to do things. Sure, I was given proper time off work. But things like bills still needed to be paid.
I forgot to pay my September rent.
I just, completely forgot. I never sent my rent check. I have been so on-top of my bills and finances for the past few years. This was so unlike me. Yet. My brain wasn’t working. I didn’t know to expect this. All those offers to help and I needed it, I just didn’t know what for. Next time this happens, because unfortunately there will be a next time, I am going to give my bank account information to someone I really trust and just tell them to take care of my bills for a month. But I didn’t know that at the time.
Offering specific services will be appreciated even if someone doesn’t take you up on them. Offering to help tidy their apartment or watch their pets can be helpful. Even if the friend isn’t traveling, there may be a lot of running around involved. Not having to worry about walking the dog or organizing mail is one less stressor for your friend.
Show your support and love for your friend by putting together a care package for them. There are a variety of items you can add. Be specific to your friend if you know their interests. But if you’re afraid of triggering their recent memories, there are some generic things they will also appreciate.
Granola bars or any other easy to eat, healthy, non-perishable, foods. When you’re grieving, eating is the last thing you want to do. But you have to. Sitting down to a meal may feel terrible. And even heating up anything may feel terrible. But having something to eat quickly while feeling sad is perfect.
This can be a functional pillow or a cute pillow like a squishable. It can also be a stuffed animal. Or a blanket. Also slippers or fun socks. Just something warm and of comfort. Being in a hospital, center, hotel room, or relative’s house can feel especially hard not being at home. Having something to hold on to and keep warm, really provides comfort.
This can be a video game, book, maybe an itunes giftcard, or a usb drive with curated tv episodes or movies. Something to help your friend be distracted from time to time. A book of short stories or maybe a trilogy. Some magazines even.
Because we never know when tragedy or sickness will happen, please write out an emergency contact sheet. This is a spreadsheet with contact information and important personal information that you save on your computer, print out to put in your document box, and send to friends and family. Hopefully they will never have to use it.