I've thought about writing this post for a long time but I've been avoiding it. But I think it's a topic that a lot of people my age-ish are unfamiliar with so I'm putting it out there for the World Wide Web. I do want to give the disclaimer that I'm not talking to anyone in particular here, just some thoughts.
Losing someone close to you is hard. As kids most of us lose at least one grandparent but our parents tell us about heaven and we move on. Losing as an adult is totally different, there's no shrugging your shoulders and going back to playing my little ponies, you have to deal with it, and it sucks.
Sometime someone you know may lose someone close to them and you might not have experienced such a loss and don't know what to say or do, and that's ok. It's never inappropriate just to give someone a hug and say you are sorry for their loss. I'm not a fan of asking what happened, I know, it's natural we're curious creatures but think of the worst day you've ever had, now multiply that by 10 - would you want to tell 200 people about that day? Mind you, not as a group but two hundred individual freaking times. No you wouldn't. Plus, sometimes the family may not know the official cause of death yet ( I sarcastically wanted to just make a we don't know announcement at moms service but dad said I had to be gracious and that people didn't mean any harm) it may be something they want to keep private, regardless it's not something you need to know.
If you knew the deceased but not the family it's certainly ok to talk to them, share a fond memory. I appreciated this so much. Although my mothers memorial was a blur of names and faces I appreciate everyone who came and was glad to hear others say nice things about my mom. One way to think about it is this, think of you and your life and the things that you keep private, unless you're Mary Poppins you probably have some challenges in your life. Well when someone is gone everything is left for their family to deal with, and it can be exhausting and overwhelming so its really nice to hear positive things and be reminded of good times. A card with this written down is especially nice. At the service the family is concerned with a. Keeping it together b. acknowledging everyone's presence and thanking them for coming c. The business of the event. - there is a schedule to keep and logistics to deal with. I would have loved to sit down and chat with every person who came but that wasn't going to happen. But privately, in my own time I read every single card, most made me smile and I kept every single one.
Remember that everyone grieves differently so even if you have had a similar loss your experience is much different. My sister and I had very different processes so even though we both list our mom we still didn't really get what the other one was going through. I know this is going to sound odd, but try not to tell someone how well they are doing. I know it's meant to be nice but personally, I felt judged, like everyone was watching me to see how sad I was and apparently it wasn't sad enough. Trust me, I was sad but I just wasn't ready to express it. In the month after my mom died I probably cried more about feeling guilty that I wasn't crying enough than I crying over her actual death. - those tears came much later.
Gestures of support are so nice and although it may take time for you to be thanked people will remember every dish that was brought over, every flower sent, charitable donation made or act of kindness. We had asked in moms obituary for donations to the animal shelter in lieu if flowers but some sent flowers anyway, and it was nice. The family arrives at the service first and has the room to themselves for a bit, walking in and seeing all the flower arrangements really brightened my day, I felt surrounded by such love and support in that big empty chapel. Donations were also made and it was nice to know that our loss was helping others, it's a nice legacy. But support doesn't have to cost you anything, we had neighbors who did yard work without asking, friends who volunteered to watch my dog, and just people who kept me company when I needed it. I think it goes against our nature just to ask for help but if you do want to offer support here are some ideas:
- Help address, stamp and mail acknowledgements
- Offer to take care of young children if there are any
- Check on the deceased house, or the family's house if they are out of town
- Help pack up belongings and take to charity
- Serve as eyes and ears at the estate sale
- Be the designated "what happened" question answerer - pre-greet people before they talk to the family
If nothing else, I think it's important to remember that your friend is entering the most difficult phase of their life not just having a bad day so invite them out, ask how they're doing from time to time, and just let then know you love them.