After the death of a loved one, there is inevitably a litany of never-ending questions, including “What can I do to help?” or “Call me if you need anything.” Grieving individuals seldom have the strength to communicate their immediate needs mostly because they don’t know what they are. This is when Don’t ask, Just do enters the picture. As a concerned caregiver, you can be the helper, the shoulder, the strength, the logic and the anchor that the bereaved person desperately needs.
As a supporter, the best way to aid a grieving person is to quietly listen. Typically, he or she will convey intense emotions coupled with minimal logic. Since the words that are often filled with anger, guilt and sadness may not make sense, you should try to ease the anguish without judging. Avoid the use of clichés, as they hurt more than they help.
Time is at a standstill for those who are grieving. On the surface it may look as if everything is under control, but it’s not. The past daily routines consisting of work, school, chores, carpooling, working out and reading the newspaper are no longer a priority for the person who is grieving. In fact, not fulfilling these needs create additional anxiety. Not only do already existing responsibilities need attention, new tasks are added to the list resulting from the death. The role of the supporter is to maintain as much normalcy in the daily routine as possible; and this challenge should not be underestimated.
When Rod passed away suddenly, I lost all logic to cope with the situation. What I needed most was someone to take charge of my household and “think” for me. This included making the telephone calls that would inform others of his death, coordinating the arrangements for out of town family and friends who would be attending the funeral, funeral arrangements, keeping track of the condolence gifts sent to the house, restocking essential household supplies (e.g., toilet paper), preparing food, feeding my daughter and changing her diaper and ensuring that I was taking care of myself. At the time, I would never have been able to communicate all these needs to my family and friends. Depending on the situation, here are a few Just do’s:
- When visiting a grieving person’s house, look around. Without inquiring, you will immediately notice many things that need attention. Take charge and accomplish the task with out asking questions – open cabinets and find what you need.
- Help to manage the food that has been delivered to the house. Organizing groceries and prepared items will make finding nutritional food effortless for the griever, providing much needed sustenance. If the refrigerator is too full, freeze portions of the food with a note of what it is and how to prepare. Fill the holes with staples and healthy grab-and-go foods for snacking.
- In the early stages of grieving, small children are a blessing and a curse. While they provide a welcome diversion with their presence, they also require attention and support. As a supporter, gestures can be as simple as sitting in the bathroom while a young child is in the bathtub or as major as providing the griever with an overnight visit. If the offer to take the children away somewhere is declined, do not give up – entertain the children in their own home: reading a book or baking cookies, both of which will create some degree of serenity in the house.
Always remember that just as no two women encounter the same experiences during pregnancy, people who are grieving the loss of someone close also grieve very differently. In other words, there is no “secret recipe” for helping grieving individuals, only key ingredients. These ingredients correspond to the closeness of the caregiver’s relationship with the grieving person and the extent to which the caregiver is willing to reach beyond their comfort zone. The goal is to help, not suffocate, the bereaved.
Rachel Kodanaz is an author, speaker and consultant who provides encouragement to those who are suffering a loss or setback. She is the author of Living with Loss, One Day at a Time and Grief in the Workplace.
Both are available at rachelkodanaz.com and amazon.com.