10 Ways You Can Help A Grieving Friend or Family Member
Grief Recovery - How You Can Help
When you lose a loved one, your life continues despite the hole in your heart. The sun still rises each morning, you still need to provide for your family, and regular responsibilities of daily life continue. This is extremely overwhelming. That is why this list is so important to aide survivors. I know, because I am a survivor. I lost my husband over 9 years ago and needed every single one of these items to get to my "new normal." It took several years but without this help, I could not have continued functioning with all the responsibility now on my shoulders.
The list can be used from a helpers point of view but I have written it from my point of view since all these things were first hand experiences to me.
So, where do you start? Well the obvious one is with the finances/household management. Also head to Social Security to apply for benefits. But the real thing to remember is if someone asks you, "What can I do?" you can direct them to a chore or task you need taken care of. These are not in order of importance because everyone has their own priorities.
On the pre-list: it was very helpful to me that my sister-in-law and oldest son stayed extra time after the funeral to help me begin this process. It was important because my mind was running in so many directions worrying about multiple things and they were able to be rational and keep me focused on the task at hand.
Share Your Thoughts On Suffering a Loss
Have You Suffered the Loss of Someone You Loved?
At the beginning, a trusted family member or close friend is a valuable resource in keeping financially sound. My husband was the financial guru in our household and I had to learn how to manage our finances, learn about investments, and understand our budget. I needed a lot of help to get where I am but with the help of a very dear, close friend I am able to manage my household easily. If this is your specialty, offer your help in any way you can.
Consuming healthy food is an essential piece of the healing process. For two solid months people brought us dinners. We froze some and it sustained us for even longer. I did not have energy in the first 4-6 months to come home from my new schedule of picking up children from school, homework or a sport activity, and then make dinner. There are social media sites that set up calendars for group help. Take advantage of anyone who wants to supply you with a meal - never say no!
You can also invite the grieving family over to your house for a meal. This was such a welcome gift for us as it not only provided sustenance, but the fellowship that comes from sitting around the table and sharing a meal.
I was physically unable to do anything strenuous for at least 2 months. Grieving takes a lot of energy and you use it up just thinking. Two wonderful ladies from our school community just showed up at my door one day with cleaning supplies in hand saying they were there to clean my house. This was their way of helping and it was such a relief for me and a pick me up to have a spotless house. After 3 times, I hired someone to clean my house as this was a huge chore for me that I just could not find time to perform. (As a flip side of that, my teenage son and I are now able to maintain the outside so we feel this justifies the cost of the cleaning the inside.)
Rides for Children
In the case of losing a spouse, you are now down to one driver, one runner, one person who is responsible for all transportation of children and self. This is a big one. As we all lead busy lives and know how many times we need to be in two places (or more) at once, doing it solo is impossible. I had to rely on people to help me and they wanted to help, they told you they wanted to help. Call them! Ask them to help. It will be good for you and it will make them feel good that they can do something for you. At four years after losing my husband, there are still times I ask for help and feel blessed to have friends that understand my situation and I can rely on.
Consider this too, give a break to your friend or family member by offering to drive them somewhere you may be going together. It is a huge gift!
Phone Calls and Visits
It’s important that you extend yourself to the grieving person, not leave it laying in their lap. There is always going to be a hesitation on the part of the grieving person to actually call someone, as you feel like you are putting someone out. It is very meaningful if you call or visit the person. Write it down on your calendar, put it on your to-do list, any way you can remember to reach out is better than leaving it up to the grieving person. This is applicable not only in the first months but forever.
The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not 'get over' the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but, you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to."— Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and John Kessler
My husband was also the techie in our family, in fact he often times solved serious problems for people with Apple computers - our own genius! We relied on him to fix the simplest of computer/TV/electronic problems so when the first big technological issue arose, I was a complete mess, sobbing and missing him badly. If you are good at technology, please consider offering your talent to help someone who may be low on the technical ladder. One major piece of advice - turn off, unplug, replug, and turn back on whatever you are having a problem with before you consult for help.
Give a Parent a Break
Take Kids For an Adventure/Escape From the Ordinary
As an only parent (which is different than a single parent - a single parent still may have the other parent just not in the same household) I need a break from my children. You can only surmise, they need a break from me! Anytime you are available to scoop up someone's kids and take them for a day or even overnight, this gives both sides numerous refreshing possibilities for mental health. A prime example was my friends, Ellen and Jess who picked up my two younger kids and took them Christmas shopping for their siblings and for a present for me. I supplied the funds and they supplied the time – what a gift! (Put it on your calendar NOW!)
It's difficult to take care of yourself and the outside of your house usually takes a hit. If someone offers to help with yard work, take them up on it, this is not the time to be shy. If you have a yard service and someone offers to help you, cancel the service for a few months and save the money. This is a good chore for a neighbor or men’s group. One day I heard an edging noise coming from my backyard and it confused me. When I looked out the window, my neighbor was just tackling the job in my yard. (He continues to do surprise jobs for me!) Another time a family of six from our church came over the day after Thanksgiving and raked leaves for three hours. That's a lot of leaves! I have never forgotten these kindnesses and try to pay them forward when I can.
Helping grieving people is not an easily discussed or popular subject in our society, yet it is a cycle of life we will all experience. While we have come a long way from just a few decades ago, we still need to be more open to those who are suffering the loss of a loved one and not be afraid to be open about their loss.
For a woman, this is essential. I needed a go-to guy that I could ask questions to any time of day or night. My brother-in-law filled this gap and continues to do so today. Something else in this category of importance. The first time I needed some car maintenance I went to the local garage that we have used for years. I asked for the manager, explained who I was (he already was familiar with my face), and told him I needed the same level of confidence that he would pay my husband and asked him point blank if I could expect that from him. He said I could and I continue to take my auto maintenance issues to him. Sometimes you just have to be blazingly honest to make yourself understood. I was not rude and I was not sappy, I just stated it matter of factly.
I could not venture into the grocery store without breaking down upon seeing food that my husband enjoyed or my gut would wrench when I saw the smaller amount of groceries in my cart. A few times, I left my cart and walked out of the store. A friend who lives nearby offered to help with anything, so Liz went to the store for me about 4 times and when I finally went by myself without crying, I called her to celebrate as I thought she deserved to know she helped me over this hump. Nourishment for a grieving person is very important so this is an excellent way to extend yourself.
I Know, We are Past 10 But...
I could not leave these tips off the list, they are too important!
For me, this is huge. We have a big yard and a big garden. My husbands death occurred exactly when we should have started planting our spring garden. There was no way, physically or mentally I could have done this yet the organic, healthy food we produce were so important to me. I have a dear friend who took this job on as his gift to me. Here I sit almost 10 years later and he still comes and helps me with the tiller and shredding. Please consider this chore or whatever outside beautification you can provide, especially if it is your talent. Just imagine what a few potted plants or flowers would do to brighten up a porch or walkway for a grieving person.
Babysit so Parent Can Go on a Trip
This is a tall order but each year I take a weekend trip that helps me renew my spirit and soul and be in different surroundings. I usually take this trip around the anniversary of losing my husband. If you are blessed to have someone who offers to do this for you, take them up on it. If not, pay a babysitter. Even one day and night away will give you a new perspective. This is also a big step in knowing (for both parties) that you can leave and return and everything is OK.
As we have progressed, not only do I need a trip, my daughter needs time away from me, so this is good for both of us.
Organize Photos or Collages
So many of our memories are made in pictures or videos and are now stored on the computer. Consider putting an album, collage, or picture book together to share and bring much joy to the family. One of the most thoughtful things we received after our loss came from my niece Kate; she gifted us each a photo frame for our favorite picture with my husband. We filled them immediately and each of us have that framed photo near and dear to us.
Consider this: our daughter got married 6 weeks before her daddy died. I never ordered wedding photos.
Help with Christmas Decorations
The task of decorating for a holiday is overwhelming after losing a loved one so you can really be of help by offering your time and talent at this busy time of year. If my brother-in-law would not have come to visit and helped us get our tree up, I'm certain we would not have been able to do it ourselves. You can help get boxes down from the attic or storage and also help put up outdoor lights and decorations too. A family came over and helped with our outside lights the first Christmas and we all just beamed looking at the house afterwards. I would have never done it at all if it was left up to me. It was the perfect Christmas gift. If you are the giver of this gift, put it on your calendar to check with the family again next holiday season.
Swimming Pool Maintenance
Specific Need For Me, But Perhaps You Can Identify A Similar Need
Our summer centers around our use of our pool in addition to the fact that I teach swim lessons for a few weeks each summer. I was used to performing the basic things like emptying the skimmer baskets and skim leaves out of the pool, but the pump, filter, and all their intricacies were foreign to me. Not just anyone can help with this, it has to be someone that has the knowledge and experience. After I identified these smart people, I just had to be bold and ask them for help. After several years, I sometimes call myself the pool lady and feel like I could get a job with a pool company!
The Gifts That Have Been Given
Pay it Forward When You Are Able
The key to all of these is that once these gifts have been given to you, it is impossible to immediately pay them back. It is a time in your life when you have to be a "taker." However, after you are established in your new life, you will be able to help others, especially since you know how they feel. It gives me a sense of worth to help grieving families with items on this list and I feel strongly about passing it on. Even though sometimes I still "take", I also give to those in need.