It’s been many years since my mom passed away at the age of 53. Although I do often think of what might have been, the process of grieving both throughout her illness and then after her passing has allowed me to move past the pain. While there are days that I might still feel sad, it doesn’t hurt like it used to.
Support in these times is invaluable. I am so fortunate to have people around to help me wade through it and if you have a friend, family member, or spouse who is experiencing grief and loss, they’ll be thankful they have you, too!
It can be hard to know what to say or do when someone close to us is grieving. What is appropriate to say? Do our words seem shallow? What actions are truly helpful? Which should we avoid? Here are six things that I appreciated people saying or doing for our family while we were in the midst of grief and I’m sure others would appreciate, too!
Anything! Okay, maybe not something that starts with, “At least…”. These words just don’t feel helpful in the moment. We can end up not saying anything because of fear. Fear we’ll get it wrong or fear we’ll make someone cry. While this may happen, it is still important to acknowledge the loss. Some great phrases are;
- I’m so sorry, it must be so hard.
- I can’t even imagine how you must be feeling.
- I think of you often.
- Your_____ was an amazing person.
Saying it verbally may be the best way but it certainly isn’t the only way; emails, texts or voice messages are meaningful, too.
Be a Practical Help
When a family is in the midst of grief, normal life can get put on hold. Even things like eating may become unimportant. Helping out in practical ways can be such a gift! Bring a meal. Take the kids to the park. Clean a bathroom. Scan old photos for the memorial. Mow a lawn. Give a box of Kleenexes with a note attached. Send flowers to brighten up a home. Bring a coffee or favourite box of tea. Bake cookies.
Many people fall into the trap of simply saying, “Let me know if I can do anything!” The truth is, most people who are grieving won’t ask for help and even if they would, they don’t really know what to ask for.
Attending the memorial service is also a great practical help. I really appreciated the friends that came to my mom’s memorial to support me. Seeing their smiling faces as I was speaking from the front helped me get through it while feeling loved and encouraged.
Remember and Acknowledge
Once the memorial is over, things can get tough. Survival mode can kick in leading up to and through the day of the service but then reality sets in. It’s important to remember that if someone has lost their father, then Father’s Day will be tough. The first Christmas will be tough. The first Thanksgiving, or birthday celebration or wedding or birth of a baby in the family will be tough. Celebrations are just tough. They do get better but a quick message saying, “Thinking of you today!” sure can help.
Share Pictures or Stories
Sharing memories of a loved one that has passed away is such a gift to the family! I would love more information about my mom from years past. What was she like as a teen? How did she handle being a new mom? What were some of the funny things she said or did? Things that she didn’t get the chance to tell me herself. Having conversations involving memories are precious to a grieving family. It’s nice to know that others love and miss them, too, and sharing memories can help the healing process.
Invite Them Out
Some grieving families may appreciate being busy. Whether it’s going for a walk and having a conversation, or playing a sport and being active, these things can help life start to feel a little bit more…normal. We don’t always ask these things early on because we want to give time and be sensitive. However, while it is absolutely healthy to mourn and process, it’s also beneficial to get some fresh air, exercise, and stay a part of the real world.
Be Sensitive to Triggers
Whenever someone said the words, “cancer, mom, death, or grandma,” I felt a little dagger stab my heart, especially in the first year after my mom’s passing. Think about what a grieving persons trigger words might be, or if you’re close, have a conversation about it. There were also certain situations which hurt my heart. For example, when I saw grandma’s with their grandkids I would mourn what my children would never have. While these feelings don’t last forever, early on they are very real. So, sensitivity is key. If someone loses their mom, don’t complain about moms in front of them. If they’ve lost a child, know that constantly talking about kids might be painful. When we do catch ourselves saying something that might hurt the person in the midst of grief, simply acknowledge it. We’re all human! Sure, it may be awkward, but a, “Wow, I’m sorry. That wasn’t very sensitive,” goes a long way!
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