Things to remember when helping after death

When a young person dies, it seems the cruelest of losses.

It seems we try even harder to make sense of it all when the truth is, very little about death makes sense.

The morning my brother passed away, my mom rounded us all up in the family room. She cautioned us with a phrase I’ve reused a thousand times since.

“Put on your duck suit. People are going to say really stupid things today and you just have to let them roll off your back.”

Mom was right.

When a brother is diagnosed with leukemia and dies less than three weeks before your wedding, even fewer knew what to say.

“This was a bad time for this to happen.” Fact: There is no good time.

“He was so young.” Yes he was.

“You should have postponed your wedding. It’s not like he was here anyway.”

One of the last things Glen told my dad was, “No matter what, that wedding will not be postponed.”

The more helpful words:

“He was so excited about your wedding!” Gave me a glimpse of how much I meant to him.

“Can we help you with your wedding?” Allowed me the courage to do the next thing.

Knowing my mom had an army of friends to serve brunch allowed us some access to joy on that difficult day.

Some things to remember when helping after a death:

Less is more when it comes to words. You can’t go wrong with a hug, a squeeze of the hand or a kind deed.
Food brought in disposable containers brings comfort with less fuss. Having to return dishes can add to the stress of a grieving family member. At the very least, send something that doesn’t have to be returned. (Also find out about allergies or if someone has a food intolerance.)
Please remember the “forgotten griever.” This is the person who may not seem closely related, but has suffered a loss as well. My husband adored my mother. It was a devastating loss when she passed just five years ago. She had been his “other mother” for 20 years, but the hurt wasn’t acknowledged as much as it was for other family members. In-laws feel the pain too.
Don’t tell anyone they need to “just get over it.” I will never “get over” the loss of my brother, my niece or my mother. Their lives have left an indelible mark on my soul. However, reminding me that I can “get through” is a different story. Hugging me quietly or sitting in silence while my tears wet my face will bring the strength I need.
Offer practical help. Especially after a long illness folks can feel behind on chores. House cleaning, grocery shopping (especially for basic supplies) and errands can all pile up.
Consider a plant or flower that will last. When my mom passed, the only acknowledgment (besides a few Facebook messages) I received at home was a beautiful rose bush from one of my dearest friends. It was chosen carefully with my mom’s name in mind. Even during the winter it is a reminder of how one life blooms in the hearts of others long after they leave this earth.

A rose bush given in honor of Jemelene's mother.
Allow the grieving person to talk of their loved one. Crying isn’t a bad thing. Changing the subject when someone is sharing their pain doesn’t make them forget. Ask questions, mention names and listen to stories. If you knew the loved one, share your stories too. I want to hear how my brother made someone laugh or my mom saved the day for a young friend. These are beautiful moments that honor humanity and the gift of life God has allowed.
Don’t say, “Call me if you need anything.” Be specific when you offer help. Say “Can I take your clothes to the dry cleaners?” or “Do you need help picking an outfit for the service?” You can offer to take them shopping or any other errands. Just be clear about what you have to offer.
This list is not all-inclusive. Grieving is personal. It will vary for everyone, but many have found the above answers helpful.

Just remember that it doesn’t take fancy words to make someone feel loved. It takes a listening ear, genuine kindness and an open heart.

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