Everyday many people experience tragedy through the loss of a loved one (family and friends). Most days, we often know someone who is experiencing death and we are left with the question, "What can I do to help?" Often times, we are left with the reality that there is not a whole lot we can do except offer up prayers on their behalf, so we usually respond by saying, "If there's anything I can do for you, please let me know."
While this is a great thought and idea, I know from personal experience, it's one that is never answered. So, we go about with our daily lives waiting for the person or family who is grieving to call us. The call is never made because in the moment, the farthermost thought in that person's mind is to call the many people who have offered their help.
When I lost my mom this past summer, it was comforting to know that so many people were there, if we needed them. However, like most, it never crossed my mind to call these people. It was easier to ask those around me at the time for their help. What I appreciated the most, were the people who just did. They took it upon themselves to help in other ways without offering help. They rose to the occasion and took care of different things.
It's never easy to comfort someone during a tragic time. We often times can't find the words to say, so we simply pray. We often times don't know what to do, so we wait until we are called upon. Today I offer some practical ways that you can help someone who is grieving during a time of loss in their life.
1. Be available. Do not say "Call me if you need anything," because they will not call. Not because they do not need, but because identifying a need, figuring out who might fill that need, and then making a phone call to ask is light years beyond their energy levels, capacity or interest. Instead, make concrete offers: "I will be there at 4 p.m. on Thursday to bring your recycling to the curb," or "I will stop by each morning on my way to work and give the dog a quick walk." Just sitting at someone's house, even when you don't know what to say, can help. There are tasks to be completed around the house, as well, like washing dishes, taking garbage out, checking the mail, etc. Come play with the kids, if they have children. Make yourself available.
2. Coordinate meals. The first thing that comes to people's mind when someone is going through grieving, is to bring food. This is a great way to offer someone help. It takes a load off to not have to worry about what needs to be cooked for each meal. Instead, all of that is taken care of. Do not overwhelm people with so much food that they do not know what to do with it, but make sure they are taken care of. Coordinating meals helps with having repeating meals. For example, when my mom passed away there was no real coordination as to who was bringing food and it felt like everyone was bringing bar-b-que. It's important for one person from your congregation to meet with the family to ask how often they would like food brought, what they like and don't like to eat, and if they would like the food brought to their house or a central eating location.
3. Make a snack basket. One thing that I appreciated the most was the snack basket that was made for my wife and I to enjoy while we were traveling home. However, this is a great thing to have even when there is little to no traveling involved. To the person who is grieving, eating a heavy meal is not at the forefront of their mind. So, if you find out their favorite snacks (candy, chips, popcorn, etc.) you can pair that with bottled water and other drinks that can help them to stay replenished with energy, even if they are not eating the meals. It's much easier to snack than eat a full meal. Also, if the person has children, include snacks for the children, as well. This will help them to not worry about making a trip to the grocery store to feed their child.
4. Help tackle the "big" things. Unfortunately, life does not slow down for someone who is grieving. Decisions have to be made and things have to be done. You can help by tackling some of the "big" things together. One of the things I offer to do now is to help with the funeral planning, going to the funeral home, etc. Your presence alongside them is powerful and important; words are often unnecessary. There will be forms that have to be filled out, calls that will need to be made, kids to be picked up, errands to be run, and you can help them to tackle what seems to be an insurmountable list of tasks that will need to be done. Funeral costs will always be an unexpected cost, help them to tackle it by setting up a way for others to donate to help offset costs of immediate needs/funeral costs.
5. Ask first. We all have good intentions when it comes to doing their laundry, cleaning the house, and more. Yet, we don't know the sentimental value of each item. It's important to ask before we just do when it comes to helping out around the house. That empty soda bottle beside the couch may look like trash, but may have been left there by their husband just the other day. The dirty laundry may be the last thing that smells like her. Do you see where I'm going here? Tiny little normal things become precious. Ask first.
6. Love. Above all, show your love. Show up. Say something. Do something. Be willing to stand beside the gaping hole that has opened in your friend's life, without flinching or turning away. Be willing to not have any answers. Listen. Be there. Be present. Be a friend. Be love. Provide ongoing support, because no one ever truly "gets over" losing a loved one. Certain times and days of the year will be particularly hard for your grieving friend or family member. Holidays, family milestones, birthdays, and anniversaries often reawaken grief. Be sensitive on these occasions. Let the bereaved person know that you’re there for whatever he or she needs. Love is the thing that lasts. Make sure they know that they are loved.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. - Psalm 73:26
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Andrew Thompson is the Youth and Family Minister at . He is married to the beautiful, Joy Thompson (who is way out of his league!). They enjoy sharing life together, ministering to teens and families, football in Tuscaloosa (Roll Tide!), and musical theatre. Andrew is a proud supporter of sarcasm and dry sense of humors. Thank you for reading!