No matter the circumstances, grieving is never an easy process. If someone you care about is going through a time of grieving, you may want to help but feel at a bit of a loss, especially if your neighbor or friend is dealing with an unexpected loss. But in these times of need, the best thing to do is to just be there for them and to find out what they need. Anticipate their needs to the extent you can. Try to imagine what would help you if were you in their situation.
Knowing What to Say
In situations of loss, it can be extremely difficult to know what to say sometimes. Especially when the person grieving is not a member of your immediate family or a very close friend, you may feel you don’t know them well enough to know what will be of comfort. In these situations, it’s sometimes best to just give space when you aren’t sure. Be sure to attend the wake and funeral if appropriate and send flowers through a company like ProFlowers that will let you send a note for condolences. This way, you can send along some kind memories about the deceased or some words of comfort, and the grieving family can wait to read the note until they feel ready to do so.
When the opportunity does present itself to speak to the family, don’t be afraid to talk about the deceased and be frank with your condolences. The family doesn’t want you to act as though their loved one never existed. Just be kind and offer your love in difficult times.
Know How to Help
Think back on any time in your own life when things have been difficult for you. Maybe you were dealing with an illness or injury and found it hard to deal with certain tasks and chores. Or maybe during times of stress, you noticed certain chores became huge burdens. Think back on that and consider what ways you would have liked others to help.
When you do speak to the family, you should of course ask them if there is anything they specifically need help with. But of course, many people are hesitant to assign tasks to others or ask for favors, so you should also be ready to offer some specific favors you can do. For example, offer to mow the lawn, help out with house or car repairs, do the laundry, wash the dishes, take the kids to school or soccer practice, bring over cooked meals on a regular basis, etc. If you are close enough with them, consider hiring a cleaning service for their home and get them out of the house by purchasing them a spa package to help them relax. Especially in the months after the funeral when the help and attention from others starts to disappear, your help and take-charge attitude will be especially beneficial.
Encourage Positive Reflection. “What,” Not “Why”
As you are supporting and helping your neighbor during these times, try to help them reflect positively. Of course, they will need their time to feel sad and mourn. But when you reflect positively on the life of their loved one, you help remind them that their loved one is not forgotten and that their life was appreciated. Here are some thoughtful ways to reflect and reach out:
- For a religious family, encourage prayer and remembrance by making them a prayer journal or jar. For example, there is a church group that knits prayer shawls for grieving families. If you are crafty, make something like this in remembrance of the deceased. Ideas might include knitted shawls and blankets, scrapbooks, photo albums or nicely framed photos, quilts, etc. If you know the family’s favorite prayer verses or religious passages, quote or reflect those in your gift. If the family is spiritual but not religious, look for expressions of love from your own faith. In these times, it helps to know that others are praying and hoping for a loved one, and it will be especially meaningful to know that you took the time to do something for that family based on your own background and beliefs.
- How does your family cope with tragedy? Think about the things that are meaningful to you and bring those things to this family in need. Did someone once gift you a meaningful gift or say something kind at just the right time? Recreate this moment for the grieving family. For example, if your mother always cooked you a particular dish when you were feeling low, make this dish for this family and explain to them that it’s what your mother always gave you. These kinds of meaningful gestures are very helpful in making the family valued and like loved members of the community.
- Invite other neighbors and community members to reflect on the deceased. Collect their kind notes and any pictures they can give you into a Zazzle memory book. After the family has made it through the first few weeks of grieving, give them a gift like this as a gesture to encourage them to heal and remember.
Just Being There
Just being there for the family in need can make a huge difference in how the family deals in this time of tragedy. It’s very important that the grieving family feel supported. They need to know that they are loved and appreciated members of the community. Just being there for them when they need a volunteer to help out with some odd task or just someone willing to listen might be the most important kind of help of all.