“What can we do to help?” friends asked me as my husband lay dying and soon after he passed. At first I didn’t know how to answer.
I was still feeling my way through early-stage grief, from the inside out. At first I didn’t know what I needed, but others sometimes recognized a need and offered specific help. Or just showed up with it. Sometimes my head was clear enough to ask. Sometimes not.
I previously wrote about helpful things to say to a person going through a loss (Talking to Grief). But it’s not all about words. Support comes in words and actions.
Jerry lapsed into unconsciousness only a day after he was admitted to hospice. He died the day after that. My children and I were in shock at the suddenness of his approaching death. When the hospice asked me to name a funeral home, I couldn’t bear to think about it while Jerry was still alive. I told two friends what services I would need; they did some quick research and brought me comparative information that saved over $2,000.
On Jerry’s last day, a group of friends sat vigil in the waiting room, just to be near us if we needed something. A workmate drove my daughter from their office to the hospice. A couple brought supper to my children and me as we waited at Jerry’s bedside for the end.
Church friends took over all the details of the memorial service I had outlined. I invited the speakers and chose the music and readings. They did the rest: creating the programs, serving as musicians, acting as ushers, choosing a caterer and menu, and buying and arranging flowers and photos.
Those were practical things I needed right away. As time passes – almost a month now – other kinds of needs are bubbling to the surface.
I’ve frequently been told I’m a “strong” woman, but I’m suddenly feeling very vulnerable. At first I didn’t want to be alone. My children and a sister took turns spending the night with me for the first weeks. A son-in-law ordered me a medical alert device.
Visitors come. Friends invite me to dinner. I’m letting myself be cared for, a new experience for me. The simple presence of others is a great comfort while I’m feeling my way into a new life.
Here’s the takeaway: If you want to help newly bereaved friends, look for their practical needs in the moment (transportation, food, shelter for out-of-town guests) and their emotional needs long term (simple presence, an invitation to a meal or a movie). Compassionate communication isn’t limited to words.
Beyond Dispute Associates
© Carolyn Parr and Beyond Dispute Associates, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carolyn Parr and Beyond Dispute Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Ronald Cappuccio says
Carolyn: This article is very helpful. Thanks for making it available!
Alan E. Gross says
This post and your previous one on grief should be very helpful to others, Carolyn. Unfortunately you are now expert on this topic. You and others could also benefit from the excellent work on grieving esp. what to say and what to avoid saying by my former colleague in social psychology Camille Wortman. You can view her many articles, both practical and theoretical on grief at Google Scholar. Here’s a sample: http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/blogs/offering-support-bereaved-what-not-say
there’s also an excellent piece on what to say or do by Camille. Best, Alan
Personally I’ve tried to anticipate/avoid grief a bit by 1) becoming the oldest member of my fam 2) donating my body to med schools in the 3 cities I am in most (mainly to avoid expenses) 3) becoming fiercely unreligious so I and my fam don’t have to fear St. Pete, deities, and others who presume to decide after death fates and locations!
Very helpful message Carolyn. Shared with others at hospice.
Jerry’s love never ends.
Jamie Lapin says
I am so sorry for your loss. You are now an expert at grief. Your newly earned empathy will make you better at healing others. How sad that this credential is at such a high cost.
I do a lot of financial work with the terminally ill and grieving families. The legal and fiscal demands of people going through this private Hell are daunting. It helps me to have something concrete to offer. Please allow me to share my hard-earned knowledge and assistance with you. I think it will do us both good.
Glenn & Opal Dow says
Thanks for the reminder, that practical love in action is doing something that “needs doing”; and because it is genuine, loving friends realize and can do it with “unclouded” compassion. In our retirement years, Opal & (she, especially with her flowers, etc.) I have opportunities even though we are somewhat disabled (she, because of me and me, because i am still in the recovery stages), but we try to do them. We love you, Carolyn and we continue to ask for the Love of our Lord to bring you reconciliation over your great loss and wonderful memories over Jerry’s life and love. Glenn & Opal