As many of you read via social media, my dad passed away in December. While he had been in the hospital, he was on the upswing and had been transferred to an inpatient rehabilitation center while getting dialysis treatments. I had been fearing for what his health meant five years down the line, but I never expected a call the next day that he wasn’t responsive. Nearly three days later, on December. 9, 2015, he passed away. Writing this, I’m still in shock at the reality. So much of who I am is because of him.
They say, for better or worse, the tough times show you your truest friends and loved ones. I learned that nearly six years ago when I was suddenly paralyzed, in the hospital for a month and eventually diagnosed with a rare neurological condition. Some people will wow you, and others will disappoint. I was faced by the same last month. In honesty, I think most want to be there for you, it’s so hard to know how to react when someone is grieving. You want to be there, yet you don’t want to bother or intrude. I know I probably haven’t stepped up in the best way to others over the years but I also know it’s never too late to demonstrate care, love, concern and compassion.
I have been honestly wow’ed and humbled by friends and good acquaintances — not those closest to me but those who I’m connected to via Facebook or wherever who learned about my dad’s passing — and sent real snail mail cards, who made a donation in my dad’s honor, or who called or sent a personal text because a Facebook post didn’t feel sufficient. Those tiny acts meant more than words can describe.
A few more ways you can be there for someone who is grieving:
- Be Present. Without a doubt, the biggest thing that matters is your presence. Just be there. The rabbi at my dad’s funeral shared that there is no right thing to say,… there’s nothing or very little comforting you can say to someone who is deeply hurting. You being there for them in whatever way they need you is what matters.
- Do NOT say “it will be OK.” This is a personal pet peeve but really, you don’t know that, none of us do, and it will not be ok. Not having my dad… that’s not OK and it never will be. I’ll learn to live with it and smile at years of memories but in the foreseeable future, it will not be OK. Please do not say it will be.
- Send little emails, text or phone calls. They may not respond, and that’s ok… be persistant. Check in, offer hugs and food and magazines and distractions, or an ear to listen. Offer to help with anything they’re trying to get done for their loved one. Following my father’s death, you’re physically and emotionally drained yet there is so, so much to do, particularly if it’s unexpected.
- Make a donation in someone’s honor. Make a donation to a cause of their request or one that you know might be close to their heart. The organization will usually send them a card to alert them. While flowers are beautiful and I love having them around my house, I found it ironic that just a week later, I was cleaning up dead flowers in multiple rooms. Plus, flowers are expensive… put that money to good use (donation… or food!).
- Put together a care package. A few ideas include packaging up their favorites — snacks, books or magazines — and even something indulgent like a massage or manicure. This person likely hasn’t been taking care of him or herself so giving them the certificate is a welcome opportunity to take a moment for them. Another care package idea is to send a “Little Basket of Sunshine” with yellow-themed items (blanket, candle, etc — Homegoods is a great resource!), with a note saying that you’re sending warm thoughts.
- Write a handwritten note. I was really impressed how many handwritten notes we received. Such a simple act that took less than 10 minutes had a profound impact and touched my heart. You can never go wrong when you do something with love, and snail mail is the best. I’m sure I’ll have these cards for years to come.
- Don’t compare grief. I know this is a tough one as people are simply trying to find a connection however it can feel awkward as conversations shift about other people’s mothers, fathers, siblings or relatives who have passed away. I struggled with the right words and felt awkward if I didn’t want to get into a whole conversation. It’s only said with care and the interest in connecting however if you feel it’s appropriate to mention, consider qualifying it by saying, “I’m not looking to compare grief or experiences, just that I understand and am here for you.”
- Follow up weeks later. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is reaching out the first and second week. It’s all such a blur. I was exhausted, my brain was all over and the reality hadn’t even settled in. I remember saying to my husband a week later, man, I wish half the people who so generously delivered food waited a week. We wound up giving away and even throwing out some food when a week later I had no desire to cook, just wanted to lay in bed and yet, had no real meals to eat or serve my family. It’s also when the calls and emails slow. Maybe make a note in your phone calendar to follow up a few weeks or even one month later to send love.