First of all, I want to clarify that I am not an expert. I will NEVER claim to be an expert on anything because that would mean I had to possess all of the knowledge on that topic, and I am so far from that in any area of my life. Do I know a little about teaching? I have learned a few things over the year. Am I an expert? Oh, goodness no. I am always learning and in awe of teachers much better than me. Though I have learned a little about parenting along the way, I am no expert in parenting. Anytime I even begin to think I might know something, my kids prove me wrong! Besides, even if I were an expert in motherhood, there are no guarantees that my kids will turn out "right". After all, they are their own people, they make their own decisions.
Now that we have concluded that I am no expert, I wanted to offer a hopefully helpful post about comfort. Again, I am no expert on this. I personally have not lost anyone closer than a grandparent to me (and even then, I was married with children when I lost my first grandparent...I then lost three in a few years period). A few years ago I started following some caringbridge websites of children with cancer or life threatening diseases. It was kind of a God thing when it happened. And it happened at a time in my life I needed to concentrate and pray for others (our adoption stages). Sadly, several of the children I prayed for have since gone on to heaven. Since then I have watched people I know (or know of) bury their children, their spouses, their parents. And again, I am NO expert, but I have learned a few things along the way about comforting others with losses...
- Offer to help. You can ask how to help and some people may be able to answer but from what I have heard and read, there is a "brain fog" when you lose someone. Sometimes it is hard to think and articulate what you are thinking. So offer to help and if you can see a definite need, just do it. When I lost my first grandparent, even though it was kind of expected, it was devastating. We had young kids. One of my sweet co-workers immediately offered to come and take care of the kids during the funeral (they were just too young to go). She also brought a meal that could be frozen.
- Speaking of...meals are helpful (from what I have heard). I have heard more than one person say that after losing a loved one, making decisions is a bit overwhelming. After all, your mind is already dealing with so much processing grief, emotions, details, etc. Where is one of the biggest places that requires decision making? Grocery stores! I remember one friend who lost a parent unexpectedly saying that standing there and deciding on what exactly she needed was just too much. Really, just go and stand in front of the ketchup at the store. See how many bottles there are. Brands. Flavors. It is overwhelming for me in a normal, daily state of mind. Imagine facing that after facing the very real loss of someone you love! Bringing a meal helps reduce that decision making plus it relieves your friend of having to use the energy to cook. I highly recommend taking disposable dishes...it can be overwhelming for anyone (new moms too) to have to figure out what dish belongs to who and how to get it back to the owner. Another recommendation: the Care Calendar. If you know someone who has lost someone close, you can set up a care calendar. I have only seen it set up for meals, but I think you can set it up for other tasks too. People get a password to log on but then they can find a day where a meal is needed, sign up online, and even see what others are bringing so nobody eats lasagna five days in a row.
- More on food: something I remember reading on Bonnie's blog was that some people were bringing her other foods like things for breakfast. Again it saved her a trip to the store plus all that energy that goes into shopping. (I myself have to psyche myself up to go). I never would have thought of that before. I am sure even picking up an extra gallon of milk (which is a regular trip to the store for us) would be appreciated.
- Be careful how you word things. I think a lot of well-meaning people say things without thinking about how they sound. Things like "It is for the best..." doesn't seem very helpful to me. Saying "I know how you feel" probably isn't true unless you have been in an identical situation.
- At the same time, say SOMETHING. Just an "I'm so sorry for your loss..." or "I am praying for you." Ask them how they are doing, what they need, etc. I think a lot of people shy away from saying anything because they are so scared of saying the right thing. But then, I am thinking, how would I feel if I just lost someone and nobody said anything to me?
- Remember special days. That first year after someone dies, there are lots of firsts...first Easter, first Valentine's Day, first Christmas. All tough. Let your friend know you are thinking of them that day. If you are really close, help keep them busy (if they want) on a special day with activities.
- Remember the other days too. Even not special days are tough. And they are all tough even beyond the first year.
- Don't be afraid to cry. Or just hug your friend when he/she cries.
- Know that you are in different places for now. The little things that annoy you (like getting cut off in traffic or dealing with a telemarketer) are so very minor in the life of someone who just lost someone they love. It doesn't meant that one is better than the other...it is just different places. Be sensitive to that. I don't think that means you have to stop sharing your life or your feelings with your friend, just be sensitive to where they are.
- Acknowledge the loss. Even if it is someone you don't know well, send them an e-mail or a handwritten note saying, "Hey, I am thinking about you today." Be the support they need!
- Anytime they come to mind, pray for them. It doesn't have to be long or detailed. God knows. Just pray that He will meet their needs, whatever they are.
- Share memories of the one they lost. From what I have read, anyone who has suffered a loss needs that "connection". Plus you might share something they had never heard before (like "I remember his generosity when he paid for my meal...")
- Go to the funeral if possible. I saw that on someone's blog, that they remembered exactly who came to the funeral. And in some ways that is true for me with my grandparents...I remember a lot of who was there. And it meant alot. I also shared not long ago that I didn't go to Bonnie's husband's funeral. At the time I didn't know her all that well. Now, I wish I had. Learn from my regret!
- Know that everyone grieves differently. Some people may weep for days, others may not weep (at least in front of you) at all.
- Along with that, know your friend. Some may want you to just listen while they talk, others may prefer to grieve in private (that is when sending a quick e-mail is a good way to go).
- There are lots of ways to help. If you don't want to cook, maybe you can help do things from a "honey do list" if a spouse or child recently passed away. When a child is sick, offer to stay to help out or just give the parent a little break.
- Grieving goes beyond a year. Remember your friend two or three years later. Send a note on an anniversary or special birthday and say, "Hey, I am thinking about you today..." Let them know you remember the loved one. Isn't that always the fear we have? That our loved ones will be forgotten...