Last October my father passed away after two weeks in the hospital. For my 86-year old mom, my sister and I, those were the longest two weeks of our lives. We slept in our clothes, drove a distance to the hospital each day and made countless excruciatingly hard decisions as we waited to see if my dad would regain consciousness after his stroke.
Each person copes with stress and grief differently, but the ways that family and friends supported us during this very tough season helped us tremendously. I have learned a lot through being the recipient of so much kindness which I hope to implement when friends are going through similar heartache. Maybe what helped us, will give some guidance as you care for others.
- Be in touch. You can phone or if you are worried about being a disturbance, email or text. My family checked in regularly which was a great support.
- When responding on social media, add a little more than just, “My condolences”. The few extra words shared about the loved one or your relationship with them, make the comment more thoughtful.
- Send a written letter or card. Add a memory or a few meaningful words, not just your signature. Having something to open in the midst of the difficulty is good and it is great to be able to re-read the words at a later point when one’s head is clearer.
- If you are creative, make a personal card. My artist friend Ruth Korch noted the verse in my Dad’s Obituary and painted a card. My mom loved it and used it for the Memorial Service Program.
- Share photos, articles, verses, poems and words that will be an encouragement. My daughter-in-law regularly sent pictures of my mom's great-grandchildren and we watched the videos while spending many hours in the hospital waiting room.
- When seeing the grieving person for the first time, express your sympathy and ask how the person is doing. Allow them to talk more if they wish to and listen well. Their loss is top of their minds and they need to have that acknowledged.
- Consider sending flowers. I know that often people request that a donation is given rather than flowers being sent, but it was such a treat to receive flowers and they brightened the house. Friends from South Africa called a local florist (not an online provider) and ordered exquisite flowers. Mysteriously two different florists sent bouquets with the same note, even though only one had been ordered! A double blessing!
- Organize for someone to bring food daily. As my mom’s friends arrived one by one to bring a meal, she had the opportunity to have a short conversation with each person. It helped her share with her closest friends for just a few minutes as she stood in the kitchen receiving the meal. When bringing food, keep it healthy, easy to warm and add clear directions. The most convenient thing is to use disposable dishes, or offer to pick them up the following day. Suggest dishes are left outside, so one doesn't need to interrupt the family. Presentation makes a big difference, so add that little sprig of herbs or handwritten note.
- Send a parcel in the mail. A number of my friends mailed us treats and gifts to encourage us during this difficult time. We didn’t expect these surprises at all and they cheered us up immensely. The thoughtfulness expressed in each gift box was deeply touching and we will never forget the kindness shown. My mom and sister were amazed that friends of mine who didn't even know them, had written personal notes and included gifts for them too.
- If you feel inspired to do something spontaneously, just do it! We sometimes hold back because we don’t want to disturb or offend people, and we miss the opportunity to show kindness. Neighbors and friends stopped by with Armenian comfort food, a large box of cupcakes that we shared with visitors and offered to buy groceries or run errands.
- A friend sent a generous gift certificate from a restaurant delivery service so that we could order food to be delivered to the hospital. This was so thoughtful and a delicious change from the cafeteria meals. Another friend ordered a box of food that we needed to cook ourselves. We enjoyed trying the new recipes and it provided a welcome distraction.
- I tried coloring my own hair one evening as I was at the hospital all day. It was a disaster! If you have a skill such as being a hairdresser or massage therapist, offer to come to the house to help.
- Pick up family members from the airport. This helped so much as we were able to stay at my dad’s bedside while friends fetched my sister. Offer to host friends coming to be with the family or to attend the memorial service.
- Help practically. A friend who came for the memorial joined us in clearing leaves in my mom's garden.
- Be sensitive as to whether to visit the hospital or not. In some situations visitors are not allowed and can add stress to the family. Honor the wishes of the family.
- Allow the family to share to the depth at which they are most comfortable. (One should not ask inappropriate questions to satisfy one’s curiosity.)
- Make an effort to attend the memorial service. Our family was deeply touched by the people who flew and drove long distances to attend my dad's memorial.
- Small acts of love can be very touching. One of my mom’s friends went to my folks’ lake home and picked leaves, greenery and rocks from their garden. She lovingly displayed these at the service.
- Pray for the family and support them spiritually.
- We decided to build a home for a widow in India in memory of my dad through the non-profit HandsonHouses. We were deeply touched by each donation and thrilled that enough came in to build two homes for very needy families. I hope one day to visit these homes in India.
P.S. As I look back on this very difficult experience, I am grateful for God's peace that we experienced daily and for the precious (and even a few fun) times that I was able to spend with my mom and sister.
How have you been encouraged during a time of grief? Please share your ideas in the comments section below and share the article with your friends. Thanks so much!