Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Blessing those who mourn

This post has been a long time coming, and it looks different in its final form than I'd originally envisioned. That's life, right?!

Grief is a subject that's been on my mind quite a bit over the last few months, as I've lost several people within my extended circle. Obviously, grief can refer to a variety of situations, but for this post, I'm choosing to focus on the grieving that follows the death of a loved one. My own experience with mourning has been pretty limited. I've found some ways to help myself work through loss (journaling, looking through photos, writing a letter to the family about their loved one), but I wanted to learn more about walking alongside others as they grieve.

I came across this article that contains some great ideas for reaching out to a family in mourning in the time between the death and the funeral. This second article offers thoughts on how to serve the family beyond the funeral. (Scroll down on both links.)

I asked Monica to read the first article and to offer her perspective, following the recent loss of her father-in-law. Here is what she had to say in response to the ideas from the article:

It is important to remember that we aren't thinking clearly when going through a death. When someone asks, "What can I do?", it is harder to ask for help than if someone makes a specific offer: "What night can I bring dinner?" One thing I'd share after experiencing this is to please not get your feelings hurt if your offer to help is declined, especially if we later take someone else up on a similar offer. Our minds are reeling from the news of the death and from the sheer amount of things to do, think about and process in the first few days.

Some notes about food: in our case, lots of food was taken to my mother-in-law's. It was a big help to her and she had several family members staying with her. Two especially nice things she received were rotisserie chickens and a bouquet of fruit for guests to nibble on.

Childcare was a big need for our household - there were several times when I needed at least one of our children cared for. I so appreciated the offers and help in this - we did not have to worry about who was with our children and if they were doing ok. I also appreciated the flexibility of the caregivers as we were undecided about which girls would go with us when. One friend offered to stay at our house the day of the funeral and it was such a help - in addition to watching our two youngest children, she emptied the dishwasher and re-loaded it, chopped some peppers and cut up a chicken for me while she was here!

The article offers a great list of suggestions! I am hopeful that I will be available to the opportunities to me to serve others as we were served recently during our loss. Here are a few other thoughts:

* Try to limit phone calls - we were amazed and shocked at how chaotic our house became. The phone was ringing off the hook, we were working to complete necessary tasks for the services, extra family was stopping by, etc. It was exhausting, and I don't exactly know how I would suggest to change that. One thought is that if you have a friend going through a loss - you could consider coordinating the efforts of several friends and serve as the spokesperson. Getting only one or two calls from you rather than one or two each from several friends would really make a difference. (Carrie's note: see paragraph below for a specific resource to help you with this task.)

* A note on sending flowers: sending flowers to a funeral is a traditional way to show your love and sympathy to the family. We enjoyed seeing who had sent plants and flowers, but another idea would be to give a mum or tree that can be permanently planted in honor of the loved one. This was done for us and the gift keeps on giving- the flowers are long gone, but these gifts remain. If you do receive a large number of flowers, consider donating some to a nursing home - we did this and they were pleased to break up the arrangements and beautify the building for the residents!

* Plan special things for your children. It is easy for them to get brushed aside in all the grown up things going on. The week of the funeral, everything was so serious and there was a lot of sadness. The day after the service, I took the girls out for a day of fun, and it was such a help!

Thank you, Monica, for sharing your thoughts on how we can help our loved ones who are going through loss. Those of you who are reading, I'd love to hear your thoughts on all of this--please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.

*As I mentioned earlier, I recently learned about this cool site, which coordinates meals, babysitting, housework and other needs for families experiencing illness, death or another major event. When I logged in to my friend's account, I was immediately able to see a calendar listing her family's needs. I think it's a brilliant idea because it helps the coordinator, recipients and giver to streamline what can be a very messy process of providing help. Simplicity is especially valuable in such a situation, as Monica's experience shows!

I have to acknowledge that today marks a year since I shared about my dad's diagnosis. He is doing incredibly well right now, but the past year has been a grieving process of its own. I am thankful to God for His hand on my dad--and on my whole family--during this time. I am also grateful I get to spend this Thanksgiving with my parents. Thank You, Jesus!!


Wendi said...

Great ideas! One note about flowers to nursing homes... I would suggest that you break up the flowers before delivering them. No one at the nursing home wants to say no to donations. Especially since that is all the outside contact some residents have. I worked at a nursing home and I can't tell you the number of times that flowers were donated and then the director would walk through and say to throw them out. Not that the weren't appreciated, but that before being rearranged they are such a reminder of death. Most people realize that once they enter a nursing home it is to finish the last stage of living and having a visual reminder of death is hard. Just my two cents since I have been on the inside.

Bevy said...

Very, very good post. Well written ideas, of yours and Monica.

Thanks!! I can so easily relate to the overwhelmingness (and chaos) - and just to have time now to look back, it makes it "easier" to serve others who go through the same situations. I agree, in the moment there is no thinking clearly.

I like the idea of instead of saying "Let us know if there is anything we can do", rather to say "What night would be best for us to do...". Good thoughs.

Mom said...

A touching post, Carrie -- good suggestions from both you and Monica. I can really relate to the barrage of phone calls following a death -- the day my dad died, we were bombarded by phone calls including some from people who were friends of my dad's but strangers to me wanting to know what was going on.

An additional thought is to remember that grieving is a process and to follow up with dear ones who have lost a loved one. A few weeks later, it can seem that everyone else has forgotten this major loss.

Looking forward to seeing you soon!
Love, Mom

Tamara said...

This was an excellent post.

My father passed away suddenly this summer, and we were blessed by the support and ministry of friends and family.

I will add this: we had almost too much food during that week, but none of us had time to run to the store for breakfast items for our houseful. People often think to bring a supper meal, but breakfast foods might be very helpful for a grieving family.

Ginger said...

Great information, Carrie. My dad recently celebrated his 82nd birthday. When I went over to help them celebrate, he dropped the information that I am their Executor and proceeded to go through his lockbox of papers and procedures for when they are both gone. I have been depressed over that since he brought it up again on Saturday. It is uncomfortable, but plans need to be made for those left behind to know what to do. Without his notes and directions, I would be clueless.

Pamela Kuhn said...

I think anyone who has had a loss can relate to this post. I have an article on www.pamelajkuhn.com on losing a child. It has been my most-sold article and I believe it's because so many are touched with the loss of a loved one. Thank you for a practical, caring post.

Anonymous said...

Great post,Carrie!

One thing I might add is that if family members are flying in from out-of-town,transportation is a big issue. We were very blessed to have Richard loan us a car to use, while in St. Louis, but others may not be able to do that. Just offering to pick people up from the airport and take them wherever they need to go is a HUGE help. Also, offering transportation to & from the funeral home may be helpful to some. Just an added dimension to the thoughtfulness that can be offered at a time of berevement.

Love, Grandma

Anonymous said...

These are good ideas. Don't forget pets too. We were out of town when my f-i-l died of cancer. We lived at the hospital for the last week of his life. I had friends that I could call who checked on the animals at our house. It was a huge help not having to pay boarding costs for them. Jen