Most of us have not been trained in any way how to deal with tough situations. Over the years I have been fortunate to not have many deaths in the family that were just brutal to overcome. Losing one of my favorite aunts when she was only 28 years old rocked our family. Losing two aunts and an uncle at one time in my early 20’s was tough. Losing grandparents and uncles over the years was sad but most were not real involved with my life. Then losing my dad in 1989 and now mom ten days ago brought death and loss closer to home. I really can’t imagine getting closer yet and losing my wife, or one of our children or grandchildren.
Having just lost my mom, and being very close to her, I started thinking about things people say and do that are helpful and things that actually don’t help at all. So, I thought while it is fresh, I will pass on what I have found helpful and that which is almost hurtful.
Helpful comments for me are: “Your mom was an amazing woman who impacted my life in the following way(s). . .” “I am really sorry for your loss.” “I am thankful she had such a clear faith and you know where she is, but I still know your loss hurts.” If you are in a place where you can help, then asking and spending some time in conversation to find out what would be the most helpful thing, “I seriously want to do something to lighten your load, what would that be?” “I can run errands, bring food, make some phone calls. I am available at this time and want to help.”
Helpful actions: I’ve never been one to send flowers but I have to tell you when I saw the names of people I know on flower arrangements at the viewing and funeral, it nearly brought tears to my eyes. It was way more encouraging to me than I would have ever believed. Text messages and emails and cards that give support and simply say, “Praying,” were very helpful to me. Posting stuff on Mom’s Facebook Page and reliving some great memories was a real blessing.
Not So Helpful Comments: “How old was she? Oh, 86, well, she lived a full life.” (That comment irritates me! What that means is for 59 years she has been a nearly constant part of my life. Living longer often makes it tougher to say goodbye.) Pretty much all comments that don’t acknowledge our loss by attempting to focus on her gain. I’m thankful mom lived an active full life. I’m thankful I know she is in heaven. I’m thankful she isn’t suffering anymore but now that she is gone and all those things are true, we, the family are who is left. Our pain may be lessened some by those things but by not acknowledging our loss and focusing on her gain, your comments don’t help the only people who need it, those left behind. One last comment, “If you need anything let me know.” Like anyone will call you and tell you what they need. I remember when dad was dying a friend named Bob Zaccaria would come to visit, he’d leave and then come back with something he saw while there on his visit that would help. One time he came back with a window unit air conditioner! One time he came back with some food. I learned from him, just observe and then take action.
Sometimes there isn’t anything you can do, so just commit to praying and then do it. Delete from your vocabulary, “If I can do anything let me know!”
Hope my thoughts help us improve our approach to grieving people.