My special needs brother passed away this summer. He’s been a big part of my life for the last 30 years and he’s taught me a lot. Even right at the end, he has still helped me become a better person. I know that I will now be a better friend to someone who is suffering a loss that I would have otherwise. I have learned so much about what is helpful and that is something I will be able to carry with me for the rest of my life. I have had amazing support from family and friends and I really can’t thank them enough.
Although you sometimes hear derisive comments in popular media about expressing sympathy in the form of tuna casserole, if there is one thing anyone can do to help, it is by bringing food. It can be really hard to get yourself organized to plan meals, get groceries and cook them. Having people bring food by is a life saver. Make sure you ask about any food allergies or preferences first and it helps to make a note in some way that the food doesn’t have dairy (for example). I also highly recommend sending the food in a form that could be easily frozen and to not send it in dishes you need to get back. If you do, try to label them.
Play to Your Strengths
There is no one right way to help. If you are someone who likes to make meals, do that. If you like to bake, do that instead. If you would rather stay out of the kitchen, that’s okay too. Pick up some frozen meals, grab some buns and sandwich meat, put together fresh fruit and vegetables, drop off a gift card or get some food delivered instead. All of it will be welcomed.
Set up a Schedule or Bring Things Later
If you are part of a family or group, setting up a schedule for dropping off food can help focus people’s efforts and prevent everything from showing up at once. If you’re not part of a large group, consider bringing things later on. Most of the help will tend to come right away but that’s not the only time it’s needed.
Treat Them Normally and Don’t be Afraid to Talk About Normal Things
No matter how sad you are you can’t be sad all the time and you sure don’t want to cry all the time. At the beginning of your visit you can tell them how sorry you are, and talk about what happened but for the most part just talk. You dont’ want to avoid the subject and you want to be open to listening if they do want to talk though. Don’t treat them like they may fall apart at any moment. It can be a huge relief to talk about something else and just be normal for a while.
Propose Easy Outings
It can be hard to get the energy up to go out but taking your mind off things can be helpful. Try proposing outings that are specific, short and soon. It may also be helpful to present it as more of a statement than a question. eg. “I was thinking of picking you up to go get a milkshake at Peters.” Be prepared for your invitation to be declined.
Offer to Drive
If you know your friend has to drive somewhere or you are inviting them out, offer to drive. This is particularly helpful if they are not totally comfortable driving in the first place, are going somewhere unfamiliar or are driving to do something emotionally difficult.
Drop off a Sunshine Basket
Flowers are traditional pick me up. They are beautiful and will certainly be welcomed. The one problem that I have come to realize with flowers is that, well, they die. This can be kind of sad when you are mourning a loss. As an alternative, consider putting together a sunshine or pick me up basket with little things to help brighten a sad day. Candy, lotion, notepads, candles, bath products – it doesn’t have to cost a lot to mean a lot.
Suggest Ways You Can Help
Even when you really need help it can be hard to figure out what you need. Suggest something specific that you could do. It can also be hard to not default to saying no. You may be able to improve your success by framing it less like a question and making it seem really easy. Eg. stand by the dishwasher and say, “I was thinking of doing your dishes, is that okay?”
If You Know Something Your Friend Struggles With – Help With That
Everyone has something that they need to do in their day to day life but struggle with or hate doing. It may be making phone calls, or mowing the lawn, or picking up groceries. Whatever it is, it’s going to be much much harder to get it done when you’re grieving.
Manage Your Expectations
Be okay, with having your invitations turned down. Don’t worry if you send a message that doesn’t get a response. Or send over some food and don’t’ receive a thank you. Your kindness is certainly appreciated even if that may not always be obvious.
Just Show Up
It doesn’t have to be a big gesture. Just being there can be enough. Show up at the funeral, send a card, send an e-mail expressing your condolences.
Is there something you would add?
Great list, Dana. I especially like the idea of checking for allergies/aversions before sending food. My kids are quite picky eaters and I hated the idea of people working so hard to make food for us that only I would eat.
So sorry to hear about the loss of your brother, Dana. Thinking of you at this difficult time…writing can be very therapeutic, so keep it up!