This has been a hard post to write.
In fact, I have sat down to write it a hand full of times, only to stare at the page and determine – not today. But on this day, I knew I had to write it.
Because there are people out there, like me, who need some help in knowing what to say and what to do when someone’s loved one dies. I know some of you desperately want to be a source of strength and comfort for those around you who hurt in life’s moments of grief and sadness. But because you haven’t been there and aren’t sure what to do, it makes you feel awkward and uncomfortable.
And most of all, I write this so that those people in your life who are experiencing such tragedies will be given a little bit of comfort, strength, and peace from your acts of kindness and compassion.
I struggled with writing this because I am not coming from the angle of having experienced a loved one’s tragic death first hand. Although I have lost people close to me, such as my grandparents and some close friends, none of these deaths were unexpected. And as sad as I was about their passing, I had seen it coming and was able to grieve and prepare for it. It was also probably easier to deal with because their life wasn’t cut short.
But I know people who have experienced tragedies of loved ones being taken in the prime of life. People who suffer incredible pain over the loss of a child or spouse or friend whose life was immediately taken with no warning and as a result, the untimely death is devastating and heartbreaking. In those moments, I can’t even image the impact. So in writing this post, I didn’t want to be the one telling you what to say and what to do because I am not qualified to do so. Instead, I have asked others who have lived this nightmare what they needed most. The following insights are in their words, what they said they needed most in this time of in unexplainable pain and sorrow.
- I can only share from personal experience but what happened to me is total support for the first 2 months…then almost like a faucet shutting off…no more calls, visits, etc. Two friends kept contact and they were my lifelines. Plus to remember the anniversary of the loss was very important for a friend of mine who lost her son. I no longer live in the same state as she does but connect every year the week her son passed away. And anytime the rest of us are celebrating holidays those who have recently suffered loss feel it deeply again during those times
- We lost our daughter when she was 14 to a 7 1/2 mo battle with leukemia. My experience has been that it is very different when the death is sudden and unexpected. I am working with a young mother now who lost her son suddenly. My main advice is do something. Take a dish by and just say I am sorry and I want to be here for you. Don’t tarry unless you sense they need that. My friend’s hardest trial has been that nobody seems comfortable with her talking about her son or her grief. Everyone grieves so differently there are no easy answers. Be sensitive to their individual needs. One thing that helped us so much was cards, letters, and notes. You don’t have to respond until you are ready but you know that someone cares.
- We lost our son in a car accident several years ago. When I look back at what kept me going, it was the people around me. The support from those close and those far. What I remember is that “things” didn’t matter anymore. There were several that tried to help by sharing their words of wisdom and sometimes it got so awkward because most hadn’t experienced what I went through. Just being there to support them during this time is a huge help. When everyone leaves after the funeral is when reality sets in. That is a great time to drop cards in the mail or stop by. Everyone goes back to normal after the funeral except for the family. This is when the loneliness settles in because we felt like we were in slow motion and the world was passing us by. I make it a point to send cards or notes to those who have lost a child every month just to let them know they are not forgotten. I remember not wanting to cook or really do much of anything for a period of time. We had some close church friends that every month one of them would do a restaurant gift card or drop off food… That really was helpful throughout the months.. Every family is so different and responds differently… But loss is loss and it hurts and plain sucks. Knowing there were others even though they didn’t have the right words but stood by us with their support was enough to keep getting up and going. We were so desperate to hear our son’s name as once they pass they don’t get talked about as often anymore. Lending an ear to the family to share stories or say their names is very important to me and all of my friends who lost a child. The first year is the hardest and having a strong support network or notes of encouragement helped us tremendously.
- When my two brothers, sister and parents died – yes, been through this five times, meal preparation helped a lot. One does not feel like cooking. Also, in the beginning there are lost of visits the first four weeks. The visits dwindle after a month and you find your self alone. A weekly or bi-monthly visit with or without a meal over an extended period is helpful. Just sitting and listening and talking when the family felt like it is also helpful.
The one tip I have used that has been super helpful when I want to reach out to people that I may not be close to, but who I want to help in some way:
- Reach out to their point person – a family member, close friend, or loved one who knows the inside scoop of what they most need.
And above all else, as a person of faith, I try to make it a regular occurrence that I send ongoing prayers (even years after the loss) for comfort, peace, and strength.