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!