When friends or family members lose a loved one, our natural inclination is to want to offer help, but we often feel uncertain as to what to do. In our experience, offering specific and direct actions are best. So, rather than saying something like, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do!”, saying “I’ll be by with a meal next week. Would Wednesday or Tuesday be better?” or, “How about we go for a walk on Saturday morning?” is far more helpful. Here are some ideas of ways to be a good friend:
1. Be a Good Listener
Listen, Listen, Listen. One of the most important things you can do is to make yourself available and truly listen.
2. Send a Heartfelt Note
Send a card or letter letting the person know you care. Be sure to write a note in the card. Just signing a sympathy card may be perceived as being impersonal. Your note can be as simple as letting your loved one know that you are thinking about them and you will be there for them through this journey. These messages take on even greater meaning in the days after the services are completed.
3. Reach Out
Make a phone call or stop by to see how your loved one is doing. Be sure to give them an opportunity to talk about their feelings and to tell their story. Don't be afraid of imposing. If they aren't yet ready, they will be with a little more time. They need to sense a return to their lives, which includes close contact and the comfort of friends and family.
4. Prepare a Comforting Meal
In the early stages of grief, the bereaved can forget to eat or too busy or distracted to prepare proper meals. Having meals prepared by someone else will encourage the family to eat regularly and eat more substantially. Be sure to ask if the family has any dietary restrictions, food allergies or their favorite foods they would like you to prepare.
5. Be the Messenger
Help the person call family and friends to let them know about the funeral/memorial service. Telling people over and over again about the passing of a loved one can be extremely difficult for the bereaved. Having a few close friends and family members help with this task can lift a heavy burden.
6. Attend the Funeral or Memorial Service
Unless it is a private family funeral, attend the funeral or memorial service. Having friends and family around at this very difficult time can mean a great deal to your love one. These services are for the living to demonstrate their love and willingness to comfort a family experiencing grief due to loss. Being there means a great deal to families.
7. Do Some Fund-Raising
If the family needs financial assistance with the funeral, help them set up a fund to which family and friends can donate. The financial worries can compound the grief. Every bit of assistance will be gratefully appreciated.
8. Help Take Care of Everyday Tasks
Take out their trash, wash their dishes, clean their house, go grocery shopping, take their dog for a walk, wash their car, mow their lawn, take the kids to school, wash their clothes, etc. Taking care of everyday tasks can allow the family time to grieve and handle the many responsibilities of planning a funeral and readjusting their lives. It's also an opportunity to check in on your family or friends and provides an opportunity to be there at the most needed moments.
9. Share Your Expertise
If you have a special expertise (lawyer, insurance agent, financial planner, funeral planner, banker, etc.) or if you have already been through the loss of a spouse or relative, assist them with the paperwork that they will need to manage (i.e. making sure life insurance claims are filed, obtaining a death certificate, cancelling all credit cards and bank accounts, understanding their will, and going through all the accounts to be sure that they are aware of all the deceases’ finances.) Having someone assist with the paperwork that is familiar with the process can remove a great deal of stress from the bereaved. These tasks are important and can be very overwhelming to accomplish while in a state of grief.
10. Allow the Person the Opportunity to Grieve
The grieving process does not end with the final funeral services. It takes time and allowing your friends the space to go through the normal stages of grief can help with their overall recovery. Be sensitive to what they are feeling and let them know you are there when they need you and ready to assist when they feel it's the right time.
11. Get them Moving
Exercise can be a great energy booster. Walking, bike riding, yoga, golf, running, swimming, playing tennis, or whatever brings them joy. Make a regular date with them to get a little exercise; this will help them get the endorphins going as well as encourage them to get out of the house. Change of scenery is important.
12. Be Understanding and Patient
Your friend or family member may not know what they need right now. Your willingness to be ready, willing and able to assist when they need support will be a cherished gift.
13. Take Them on an Inspirational Adventure
What do they love to do? What have they always wanted to do? Help them reconnect with life and joy through the simple pleasures in life. Do they love going to the movies? Going to the beach? Walking through the park? Going to Disneyland? Did they always want to learn how to dance? Help them understand that they are allowed to have fun, even though they are grieving.
14. Help Them Find the Support They Need
If they are experiencing deep emotional grief, assist them in finding a grief support group or a professional grief counselor that can assist them. You may want to offer to attend a grief support group with them to give them emotional support.
15. Help Create a Memorial Website
Help create a memorial website in honor of the person that has passed away. There are many memorial websites that are easy to set-up and many of them are free or inexpensive to maintain. Facebook has also become a way for friends and family to share memories of a loved through a memorial Facebook page.
16. Visit the Gravesite with Your Grieving Friend
Offer to visit the grave site with the bereaved on the anniversary of the person’s death or on a special occasion. Be sure to allow them to talk about their feelings of loss as well as their cherished memories.
17. Remember the First Year Can Be Difficult
Remember that holidays, birthdays, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and the anniversary of the person’s death can be difficult, particularly the first year. Sending a card or making a phone call during these special times let’s your loved one know they are not alone.
18. Have Faith that Time Will Heal
Watching a friend or loved one go through the grieving process can be very difficult. It is important to have faith that they will recover from the deep feelings they are going through, and with the love and support of friends and family they will find joy again.
19. Help Them Take Care of Themselves
One of the most difficult things for people when they are dealing with the death of a family member is taking care of themselves. Giving someone a gift such as a gift certificate for a massage, manicure, or even a private yoga class (some instructors will come to your home) is a nice gesture that may help them take time for themselves. A self-care basket could also be nice if you don’t think they will be up for going out (think nice pajamas, bath items, a candle, a magazine, DVD, etc.). Consider the person who has experienced the loss; if they love movies or baseball, tickets to a game or a movie gift card may be more appropriate.
20. A Dedication or Donation
Consider a dedication or donation you could make that will reflect the life of that person, or your relationship with them. The options for this are endless – if this is a friend from high school or college, consider a memorial donation to that institution. If the person was involved in a church or community organization call to see if a donation could be made or an item dedicated. If the individual had any interest, from sports to art to animals and anything in between, seek a non-profit that may be working in those areas and make a contribution in their memory. Most places will send an acknowledgement to the family that a donation was made in memory, so make sure to check and provide the family member’s address.
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