Bookended by my mother-in-law passing last January and losing the mother and husband of my two closest and longest friends in December, several of my childhood, high school and work buddies have died or lost parents and spouses in 2017.
Judging from the Star’s funeral notices, I am not alone.
The death of someone close slashes a raw, gaping wound that friends and family members want to patch quickly.
However, here are 10 things I have observed that well-meaning friends can do to help someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one:
1) Remember: There are no words that will heal the wound or fix the situation. Just hug, hold, cry with a friend who is suffering a loss. A simple “I’m sorry” is all that is needed.
What may seem comforting — clichés like “She’s in a better place” or “He’s at peace” — can come across as shallow and trite to a person who is stunned and grappling with sadness, anxiety, doubt, indecision and confusion.
Being there — your presence — is stronger than words.
2) Do not ask for or expect a detailed story of what happened. That’s asking someone who is grieving to relive the hurt of the last few, most likely painful, weeks, days and hours of a loved one’s life. If you don’t know the situation or it is not offered to you, it’s probably none of your business.
3) Keep calls and text messages to a minimum. A grieving friend can feel overwhelmed and unable to respond.
4) Do not feel you need to remain upbeat and positive. You are grieving, too. Cry. Cry with your friends.
5) Tell funny stories and warm remembrances that evoke pleasant memories. Encourage grieving family members to do the same and remember the person who was not aged, weak or ill.
6) Encourage the grieving to take care of themselves. Sleep. Exercise. Eat healthily. Skip booze.
7) Don’t tell the person who suffered a loss what he or she should or should not be doing. Grief is personal and private. Give a friend the space and dignity to grieve in a manner appropriate to him or her.
8) Do what needs to be done. Rather than say, “What can I do?” look around and offer to do specific tasks. Vacuum the entryway. Walk the dog. Bring in the mail. Take out the trash and recycling.
The grieving family probably needs someone to go the grocery story to get water, soda, snacks for unexpected company. If you’re good with graphics, offer to make prayer cards. Got a scanner? Suggest you scan old photos and create a video or slide show for the family and memorial service.
9) Think twice about sending flowers, which could send allergy sufferers sneezing and running for even more tissue.
10) Be available after the initial shock and the funeral or memorial service, as you never know when grief will slam someone over the head and pierce the heart.
My father died in April almost 30 years ago. The following summer I was in a professional seminar in which the speaker was discussing Cheyne-Stokes breathing. I was overcome with sadness and grief, and I started sobbing. I was so disruptive the speaker had the group take a break and came over to counsel me.
And I still miss my dad.
At some point we all will be grieving the death of a loved one or close friend. I want to be a good, supportive friend to those who might need me.