Well, it’s been 17 days since we were notified of our son’s passing. There have been so many gestures of support from my real life friends and my Facebook friends. There is no way to express how comforting this is. People have helped us in ways that I would have never dreamed to ask someone to do. My husband and I typically don’t ask other people to do things for us because we never want to put people out. This experience has taught me that there are more ways to help someone besides bringing a covered dish. I need to step up my game so I am grateful for these lessons.
I will share a few examples of the type of help I have received. Within 24 hours of finding out about our loss, a couple that we are friends with stopped to ask how they could help. Normally, I would have just said, “If we think of something we will let you know.” Instead I blurted out, ” I need food.” My two sons, along with my daughter-in-law and daughter-in law-to-be, were scheduled to be home in the next two days. I knew that I would have to feed them. So food and how to feed four extra adults was going to need to happen and we still had a funeral to plan. Also, we were planning a Saturday service and I knew that there would be about 60 people coming over afterwards. When I expressed this need my friend said consider me the Food Chairman. If anyone calls with an offer to help, whether they know me or not, give them my cell number. Consider your food problem solved. This lifted such a load off of me. Everyone who sent me messages and texts who asked how they could help were given my friend’s phone number. We had hot meals every single night that week and my dining table was laden with more than enough food after the funeral. So here’s a tip. Appoint someone to be the leader and direct calls to them. This helps prevent duplicates. One lady stopped by with fresh donuts for breakfast. She didn’t linger. She just rang the doorbell, handed the box to one of my sons and said she thought we might like these for breakfast.
This same friend, the Food Chairman, phoned me the day before the service. She was on her way to the store and she wanted to know if I needed toilet paper, paper towels, plastic wrap, and Gladware containers. It had not occurred to me at all whether I had enough toilet paper for 60 extra people. The Gladware was so handy for the leftovers and people were able to take their own dish back home. So, if you find your self wanting to do something special for a friend going through a death in the family, just quietly pick up a few rolls of toilet paper , paper towels and an assortment of Gladware. You could even leave this on the front porch. That was an awesome gift.
One friend made lasagna. She doubled the recipe. One was hot and the other she put in my freezer for later. Great idea.
Another helpful thing my sister and another friend did without me asking was they cleaned out my garage refrigerator and freezer with a bucket of water and spray bleach. Anticipating that we would need the space, they just did it. When I walked out there to get a diet Coke, I was shocked to see them elbow deep on their knees cleaning out a refrigerator that had been needing it for months. That’s another idea for helping. Just check out the fridge and neaten it up and wipe it out if necessary. Don’t ask, just do it. That refrigerator and freezer were not even on my radar.
A helpful chore that my brother in law offered to do was to go to the two funeral homes and compare prices on services, caskets, vaults, and all of the extras. He got information about cemeteries. We didn’t ask him to do this. He just got dressed, picked up his keys and informed us that he was leaving to go do this. When he got back to our house, he was able to calmly explain the choices, show us photos of caskets with the prices, and the price of burial plots. He gave us his opinion on which funeral home he felt the best vibe from. So when we went to the funeral home the next day we already knew exactly what we wanted. There are enough other details to work out. Maybe you could do that for someone.
Someone brought several copies of the newspaper with the obituary in it. She just left them on the front porch. So appreciated.
Also, consider sending just a simple text or private message on Facebook saying that you are thinking of them. Don’t stop the contact after the service. It has been so comforting to receive little short messages from a variety of people every day.
One of my son’s friends came and neatened our patio and washed down all of the patio furniture. He just did it. He didn’t ask. As it turned out, the weather was beautiful and everyone wound up gathering out there. That was so helpful.
Another friend stopped by around 2:00 pm the day of the visitation with a tray of light sandwiches, chips, and cookies knowing that we would miss the dinner hour. It was perfect, not too heavy on our tummies and we had enough left to eat as a snack when we got back home.
The day of the visitation was filled with anxiety. All of the work had been done, mostly by the above mentioned friends. I was antsy. Visitation was 5pm-8pm. My daughter in law said let’s go get a manicure. It seems like a small thing but it did fill up an hour or so of time. The ladies at my regular salon were very comforting and compassionate without talking too much. Their gentle hands did all of the talking.
As far as the visitation went, the outpouring of sympathy and tears was overwhelming. I took something to help me relax that my doctor called in for me. That was helpful. The whole evening feels like a blur but here is my general impression of my feelings. You don’t have to say very much other than,”I am sorry for your loss”. You can tell a very brief anecdote that you think might comfort and tell them that you will be thinking about them.
Do not say these things. ” I know how you feel, I lost my ____ and it was devastating. I have never gotten over it.” Please do not show up before the appointed hour of visitation. This was the only time that we had to be alone with our son/brother. We needed that hour to take in the finalality of it all. Unless the family has specifically invited you to come before the appointed hour, please don’t.
Before I experienced this loss I thought all I could do was take a dish or meal. I am not a good cook so I don’t need to add to anyone’s misery. But I learned that there are so many other ways to help. Offer to buy toilet paper, big trash bags for all of the paper plates and solo cups.etc. Offer to be the Food Chairman. Offer to neaten up around the front and back yard. No one is expecting to have a houseful of guests and that is the last thing the bereaved have time for. Someone came by with a mum and just placed it on the front porch and left.
I miss my son every single minute of the day. I think about him in every conversation. However, I always try to look for a lesson in everything. This experience has taught me that there is more than one way to minister to others in their time of grief. I hope to be a better person for it.
She writes about life, death, grief, and recovery.