Tips for Showing Support After Loss of a Loved One

19 Jan
What Should I Do for Someone Who Just Lost a Loved One? It’s the most common question we get at Out of the Blue Delivered. Here’s what I’ve learned during my years of treating terminal patients and from interviewing family members…
1. Call or email a message of support. Do NOT expect an answer. In fact, your message should state something “do not feel the need to reply to this message”. Your mission is to show love and support for the person, not to add the stress of returning messages or phone calls.
2. Keep in mind that this time is ALL about SUPPORTING THEM! If you have some epiphany about your life because of this death, now is NOT the time to share it with the grieving person. If you are sad and heartbroken about this loss, find someone else to lean on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the widow or widower standing strong and offering support to friends around them because their friends were crying uncontrollably about the sadness of it all.
3. If you hear of the passing in the first two weeks, send a card. ALL cards do NOT need to be super-deep, emotional cards. “With Sympathy” over and over can be hard to take. Depending on the recipient, feel free to send a light-hearted card with a handwritten message of support.  If you knew the person who passed, be sure to include your favorite memory or what he/she meant to you in the note that you write. If you didn’t know deceased, then your note should just be one of support. EVERYONE says “You’re in my thoughts and prayers”. So, try to be original… what would YOU want to hear? What has someone said to you in the past that meant a lot to you? Pass those sentiments along…
4. DO NOT send a sympathy card after the first few weeks. Instead, send a “Thinking of You” card. A person can only take so much sympathy and then they just need love and support. It’s nice to honor someone’s life, but you don’t want to keep the flow of sympathy cards coming in. Again, be sure to include a meaningful note in the card. If you don’t have anything personal to say, then perhaps you shouldn’t be sending the card.
5. Remember that there are 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Depending on the circumstances of death and the individual coping with the loss, it can take months to move through a stage. (Especially in the unexpected loss or loss of a child instances). Therefore, don’t assume that just because 3, 6 or 9 months have passed that the person is “back to normal” or “over it”. Our daily lives may be moving on, but the person who has experienced the loss will be dealing with it for a long time. (Again, this varies by person/circumstance).
6. Don’t walk on eggshells around the grieving person. Most people are afraid to say something because they don’t know what to say or they are afraid to make the person cry. If you don’t know what to say, then say that! But don’t tiptoe around the person like they have the plague. They are dealing with enough emotions without having to feel like a leper! Look them in the eye and say “I’m not quite sure what I should say to you, but I’d like to ask if there is anything I can do for you.”
As far as being afraid to make them cry… well, tears are part of the grieving process. If the emotion is still strong and fresh, then you’re probably going to get some tears. Don’t be afraid of them. Give the person a shoulder to lean on and a hug of support… THAT is sometimes the greatest gift you can give a grieving person – the comfort of a strong hug.  If they want to talk, then listen! It’s cathartic for a person to talk about their loved one that they just lost.
7. There is a lot of stuff beyond the emotional heartache that a person has to handle when someone passes. Things like making funeral arrangements, calling lawyers, dealing with bank accounts, nursing home, hospitals, insurance companies, writing thank you notes, maintaining the daily routine (if the person has kids), sending copies of the death certificate to numerous places, etc., etc, etc. It’s overwhelming to think about much less live through it. Ask yourself what would help make the grieving person’s life a bit easier? When you come up with an answer, go do it!! Don’t ask or offer, just do it! Instead of saying “Do you want me to bring dinner over?”, leave a message saying  “I’m dropping dinner off on Thursday.”  Most people do not feel comfortable asking for help. So, tell them what you want to do for them and unless they protest vehemently, then do it!
8. When deciding HOW to help, “think outside the box”. Again, this depends on your relationship with the grieving individual, but think about ways to make their life easier…
  • pick up the kids from school and take them to practice
  • keep the kids for a night or two
  • offer to call and cancel/reschedule all the appointments for the next few weeks
  • if there are deadlines on the schedule, offer to complete the needed work
  • clean the house and do laundry or mow the grass
  • go over and make a bunch of the dreaded phone calls for her- lawyer, insurance company, hospital, etc.
  • run errands… grocery, post office, dry cleaner
  • write out all the bills for the month
  • write out thank you notes and mail them
  • offer to notify anyone that needs notifying
You get the picture… figure out a way to make life a little easier.
9. Remember to check in on the grieving person. There is no time-line for heartache and recovery. Depending once again on your relationship, check in on the person on a regular schedule…daily, weekly, monthly, yearly… Never expecting a reply…just sending messages of love, support (and sometimes humor).
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