My Dad died July 20th 2003 and sometimes, it’s still so very painful. Even though we had 5 months to prepare for his death and we knew he was/is much better off, being without him was far more painful than anything I had ever experienced.
I’ve always been compassionate with people during this time as we all grieve differently. There is no right or wrong way to deal with it.
Death, in general, is hard for us to deal with. Even as a Christian and knowing that my loved one is in Heaven and there will be a grand reunion day someday, the journey of separation is still a tough one.
Many people feel awkward and have no clue what to say or do for someone who is grieving deeply. They fear that they will say or do the wrong thing and cause more pain. I can say with complete assurance that NOT saying or doing anything WILL cause more pain.
Here are some things that I’ve done and have had done for me. Nothing is a sure thing, but, trust me, it all helps.
- Acknowledge the pain – It’s ok to say “I’m sorry.” And nothing more. Many feel that those few words is simply not enough, but it truly is. You don’t have to go into a long dissertation about why you are sorry. A gentle smile, hug and I’m sorry is more valuable than you’ll ever know.
- Send a card – Send a card when the death occurs AND then, depending on the relationship, send throughout the year. Going with them on the journey of “1st” is especially helpful. A card on their first Christmas without them. Their first birthday without them and then the person that died…their birthday. If it was a child, I encourage you to do something monthly. I can’t imagine this type of loss, but a year of letting them know you thought of them and the loss they are dealing with is priceless. In 2000, both my children’s best friends died. Megan was 5 ½ and Todd had just turned 9. I knew and deeply loved both those children. Saw them weekly and spent a lot of time with them. I didn’t know what to do, but felt that I had to do something. I sent both mothers a poem, card, verses – something – anonymously each month for a while. If you don’t know certain dates… then send something on the date that the loved one passed away.
- Hug them and often – When the dust settles and time has passed, gently hug them and tell them they are in your thoughts. Don’t think that by remembering you’ll bring more pain. You won’t. You’ll bring more joy because of the fact you remembered.
- Use the name of the loved one that died – Their name is being said less and heard less now. Use it. A while back I was in the neighborhood that I grew up in and stopped in for a hot dog at the little hole in the wall place that has been there since I was a little girl. I have no clue who it was, but while I was waiting, someone came in and placed an order and then turned to me and said “You are John Horne’s daughter aren’t you?” I smiled and said yes, I was. He smiled, shook his head and said “I sure do miss Big John. He was a good ole boy with a huge heart.” I smiled and thanked him for those kind words…and yes, my eyes filled with tears, but I was so thankful for that moment.
- Take Action– Don’t just ask the family members, “do you need anything?” Don’t do it. In all honesty, they don’t know. So, if you’ll permit me to, I’ll give you a few things that are ALWAYS needed.
- Disposable plates, cups, forks, spoons and napkins
- Drinks and ice
- Food, other than chicken. J seriously… a sweet saint that is now in Heaven herself, brought chinese to our dads house during his last few days. I told her later on that she made our day as we were all chickened out.
- Breakfast – Stop by and get a dozen biscuits, drop them off on your way to work. Believe me when I say… someone is NOT sleeping.
- Trash bags
- Candy and snack basket. Many people are dropping in and out and they always have children. This is a huge help for the mom that wants to visit with her friend during this time of sorrow.
- Fold up chairs – even soccer chairs that we carry in our trunks. Put your name on it and let them borrow it.
- Pizza – sometimes there is no warning of death, but other times…there is, like with my dad. One night, while sitting up with him – it was 2am and we all wanted pizza. Thankfully we ordered and got one.
- Continue to be a source of light and encouragement for the one’s left behind – This is huge. Encourage them to do things for others, take them out to a dinner or even just window shopping. Allow them to cry without making them feel guilty. And never, ever say… “it’s been “x” amount of time, you should be over it.” Encourage them to do something for someone else. Little things. I spent 2 years in a dark depression after my dad died. To this day, I don’t remember much about those 2 years and even just in the past year or so, found out things I didn’t even know. For instance, even though I was trying to prepare everyone for his death and though I was prepared myself – when they compassionately took my father away, as if he were asleep and not in a body bag – all I could do was hug him and cry out I’m sorry…over and over. I’m sorry. “Someone” grabbed me and just held me while I sobbed. For seven years, I had no idea who that was. Discussing it sometime later, I found out. And, I couldn’t remember what brought me out of my deep depression. My sister told me not long ago that it was the ladies that wanted to “be a secret sister” in church but their limited finances kept them from it. I literally poured myself into getting things donated so that they could do something for someone else. Does this always work? I don’t know, but I do know that there is always more joy in giving of ourselves to others than we ever imagine.
- Go over and volunteer your services – Don’t just say, “I can come over and help.” Just show up. Chat with them and throw away cups that have been left out, napkins lying on the counter and take out the trash. Load the dishwasher and do the “obvious” stuff. THEN ask, “While I’m here, let me be a blessing to you, what is next?”
Be a friend during this most difficult time. That is the main thing.
We all grieve differently. We all walk on the journey of separation in our own way. It doesn’t mean we have to go it alone. Get counseling, seek medical help and/or wrap yourself with the love of those that are left behind with you.
May I add one more thing? NOW is the time to say I love you. Now is the time to forgive. Now is the time to spend time with those you love. Now! We are not guaranteed tomorrow.
[whispering] Happy Father’s Day Dad. This journey has been harder than any, but my prayer is that through my pain, voice and time apart from you that someone else receives a blessing. I love you and miss you dearly.
If you’ve been here, on this journey of separation, please help us help others by sharing in the comment section below what made a difference for you during the time your heart was grieving.