In the immediate aftermath of a death, some bereaved people turn all their energies to “doing what needs to be done.” Others may be in such shock that they can only say, “I don’t know what to do.”
In either case, there’s a world of help that close friends and family members can give. Here are some suggestions, derived both from Nancy Guthrie’s excellent book What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts) and from our own experience with grieving people.
There will be phone calls to make to other family members. There will be the need to hug, hold, and listen.
Children will need to be cared for. Obviously, small children will need someone to watch them, and older kids may need a family friend to stay with them, provide transportation, and cook meals if their parents have to be absent or are overwhelmed. They may also need to be sheltered from certain emotional situations – and yet may need to be helped in processing their own loss.
Your friend may need help with several emotionally charged tasks soon after a death:
• Picking out and delivering clothes for the deceased to be buried in.
• Planning the memorial service (including choosing readings and music, securing clergy or another eulogist, hiring musicians, and selecting and contacting pallbearers).
• Writing the obituary.
• Picking out the casket and/or gravesite.
• Going through photo albums to choose pictures for display at the visitation/funeral or to go in the memorial video.
Other immediate needs may include cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, and stocking bathrooms to accommodate an influx of visitors. Laundry, dry cleaning, and shoe polishing may be necessary to assure family members’ funeral attire is ready.
If family members must travel to a distant funeral, they may welcome help with making airline, hotel, and rental car reservations. If the memorial is being held locally, there may be a need to shuttle out-of-town guests from the airport or even to open a guest room to them.
While it is traditional in many communities to bring food to a bereaved family, organizing delivery of meals (by a church/community bereavement committee or through an online site such as Take Them a Meal) will help cover the needs over a longer period without overloading the family with food that may spoil before it can be used. (See this blog for more detail.)
Many a friend has sincerely urged bereaved friends to “call if you need anything” and been baffled when they never heard back. Guthrie reminds her readers that in the shock that comes with a loved one’s death, friends who take initiative are priceless.
Grieving people, she said, “are not going to call if they need something. They don’t have the clarity or the energy for it. Nobody wants to call and ask someone to come over and wash their dirty clothes or mow their lawn or clean their toilets even though that’s what they really need. Nobody enjoys being needy. To ask someone to help with filing the insurance claims, picking out a gravestone, addressing thank-you notes, or packing away your loved one’s things seems like a big ask, so the grieving person probably won’t. What they really need is for you to figure out what they need and either ask if you can do it with them or for them, or just show up and take care of it.”
NOTE: This blog series is adapted from What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts) by Nancy Guthrie, © 2016. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org