Comfort the grieving
How to help in the weeks, months and years following their loss
The sympathy cards have been safely tucked away. The flowers have been carefully pressed and preserved. But the grieving for a lost loved one doesn’t end there.
In the weeks following a loss, sights, sounds and special days may trigger feelings of grief. You can acknowledge that grief in meaningful ways that show you care.
Check in weekly. After the funeral, a lot of the initial support sometimes tapers off. This is a good time to offer someone extra love and support. Take ten minutes out of each week to call, write a note or drop by. These simple acts give the person who has lost someone a sense of connection—and will make a bigger difference than you think.
Make a donation. If the family has designated a special charity, make a donation. Otherwise choose a cause the deceased cared about. The notice of this gift will be delivered after the flowers have wilted and the sympathy cards have stopped arriving. It’s deeply meaningful to know that the life of a loved one inspires charitable giving and continues to help others.
Help with correspondence. Make sure the grieving person has all the supplies they need for thank-you notes: stamps and stationery or note cards. Something as simple as addressing and stuffing the envelopes can also help tremendously. Offer to mail notes as they’re completed.
Make phone calls. Friends and out-of-town family members will want to know how the bereaved is doing. Offer to reach out to them. You might also volunteer to help find out information about legal and insurance issues related to the death of a loved one.
Holidays...anniversaries...any number of special days, events or memories can prompt grief even years after a loved one has died. Here are some ideas for helping a person who has lost someone close see important dates and events as an opportunity for remembrance rather than grief.
- Send cards or flowers on the anniversary of the death.
Grief often intensifies on the anniversary of a loved one’s death. Let them know that you haven’t forgotten their loss by sending a special remembrance. Send a card with a simple “thinking of you” message. Make a phone call to ask how they’re doing. Deliver flowers, a plant or even a tree as a living memorial to their loved one.
- Remember birthdays, anniversaries and special days.
Take note of the days that could evoke sadness and the occasions a person would most miss a loved one. These times include birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, religious holidays and even long holiday weekends. Then send a “thinking of you” card, a letter, an email or an ecard on that day.
- Be especially attentive around the holidays.
An invitation to your family’s holiday celebration will be appreciated, even if you know the person has a family to host or visit. Also, make sure they have companions for the major events of the holiday season. This can include shopping, going to religious services, attending company or school parties and attending other holiday gatherings.
Offer to organize. Monthly bills keep coming no matter how life changes—and some may have previously been handled by the lost loved one. Offer to help organize bills, write checks or go to the post office. Helping to organize other important paperwork, phone numbers and contacts can also provide comfort at a time when it’s difficult for them to think clearly.
Provide nourishment. Volunteer to drop a meal by their house. Or send gift cards for fast food or a restaurant that delivers.
Pick up and deliver. Pick up dry cleaning or groceries. See what kinds of errands the person needs to run, and go with them (or for them). Take his or her car to get washed or serviced.
Help around the house. Does the kitchen floor need to be mopped, the trash carried out, the beds stripped and remade? Take a friend (or two) and see how you can help make their home more comfortable and clean.
Check on the pets. Does a dog need to be taken for grooming? Or walked or played with? Clean out the hamster cage, or buy a new catnip toy.
Lend an ear. Invite her out for coffee, and treat her like royalty. Pick her up at her home. Select a quiet place where you're not likely to run into other people you know. Then it’s time to just listen. Let her tell you what it’s like for her right now. Don’t talk about yourself unless she specifically asks. Before you leave, find out if she wants to take anything home, either for herself for later or for other family members.