It is so hard to know what to do for someone going through a hard time.
A friend text me last week telling me the husband of a friend had died. Immediately I was transported back to the early days after my husband’s death and my heart broke for this woman and her children. She wanted my advice about what she could do to help her friend – and more importantly she wanted to know what actually did help!
It got me reflecting and thinking. How do we support people who are grieving, what can we do to ease the pain in any way?
My first piece of advice on this would be, don’t ask, just do. In my instance, my world had shifted so much that I was lucky to know what day of the week it was, let alone being able to verbalise what I needed help with.
I am also notoriously bad at asking for help (sorry friends, I know I am so incredibly painful when it comes to this).
So, if you message me and say, “let me know if there’s anything I can help with”.
I’ll lie and say, “yes, of course, I’ll let you know”.
But I won’t let you know.
Deep down I’m embarrassed that I need help and I feel incredibly guilty about it.
I know many people that feel this way, so don’t give us a choice – don’t ask, just do.
Here are some ideas to help someone that is grieving. Some of these ideas come from my own experience and may translate across to anyone that is having a tough time or has experienced grief in any way.
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD!
A common theme when looking at ways to support someone who is grieving is food and it can really help on so many fronts.
Someone that is grieving needs to be fed whether they like it or not. After Craig’s death I couldn’t eat, I was in a total state of shock. But when I did, I craved food that was warm and comforting. My Dad (best cook in the world) came to the party and made me my favourite polish sausage and potato soup – he must have made pot after pot as it was the only food I requested and could hold down. Send soups, casseroles, curries – anything that will help warm the soul. They also keep well in the freezer.
Food also helps feed the masses. There can be a lot of people around following a death so it is very handy to have food to feed them. Think bite sized pieces that can be warmed quickly in the oven. Or snack foods someone can help themselves to that doesn’t take much to prepare.
Initially someone grieving will be overwhelmed with food, but as time goes on, and possibly when the grief really hits home, the food stops. And this is not to say people have stopped thinking of their friend or loved one, rather they’re busy and their life is going on. So what about organising a food delivery service? A group of dear friends organised a delivery of healthy and nutritious frozen meals from Melbourne company, Dineamic. I still remain one of their best customers! Grief is exhausting and cooking a meal at night is the last thing on your mind, so organising a delivery or even organising a gift voucher (so the person can choose their own food and at a time they really need it) can truly be a god send.
Ordinary tasks can become incredibly hard to complete when grieving. I’m talking washing, vacuuming, dusting, ironing, taking the bins out, walking the dog, mowing the lawn – the day to day and week to week tasks that still need to be done despite the fact you could be going through an absolute shit storm!
Get a group of friends together and assign tasks that you can help with. As well as being helpful, it can provide comfort to have someone in your home when you’re feeling alone too.
If you are far away or don’t have the time to physically help, a delivery of household goods like toilet paper, dish washing liquid, washing powder etc can help keep the cleaning products stocked and is one less thing they have to think of.
CHECK IN, NOT OUT
This is a really important one. Someone grieving needs to be checked in on and probably quite often. There are lots of ways you can reach out to a person going through a hard time. A text message, a phone call, Facebook message, a cuppa at their home or in a cafe – whatever it is, attempt to check in.
Sometimes you might be met with silence, but don’t give up. Allow them the space and then attempt to connect again. Don't take their silence as a grievance against you. It's not. Grief is exhausting and they just might not have the capacity or energy to respond.
Reaching out is a way to let them know you care, that they’re not forgotten and is a simple act of love, kindness and support. Diarise it if you need, but check in, not out.
You know what is tough – grieving. You know what can be tougher – grieving when you have children to care for.
I have and probably still have moments where my body, mind and emotions hit a wall of fatigue. While my daughter brings me so much joy, it’s incredibly difficult to parent when you’re going through a rough period. Widow/ers do it particularly tough as we are now facing parenting completely solo. There’s no break. We do every bath, meal, clothing change and screaming match and it is relentless and exhausting.
Minding children for someone facing a tough time is wonderful. It’s important for the person grieving to have a break and some space from their children to be able to process what they are experiencing, or to simply put their feet up and rest. It doesn’t have to be long periods of time, even an hour child-free is a help.
When someone dies, there is a lot of things to consider for the people that are left behind that you often don’t think of. Most of it comes down to paperwork and finances.
These tasks are so overwhelming for someone that is grieving and is the last thing they will often be thinking of, or want to deal with. But the sad reality is, they must start, and need to be kept on top of, so the person grieving doesn’t find themselves in a chaotic mess many months down the track.
Some of these tasks might include, paying bills, compiling a list of the people that need to be notified of their death, contacting and engaging a solicitor, contacting super funds and life insurance companies, appointing someone to a run a business if the person was self employed and the list can go on and on.
At this point everyone needs a little practical magic in their lives.
To help with this, you will most likely need to be in this person’s inner circle and incredibly trusted, after all you will be dealing with a lot of personal facts and figures. Gently ask the person grieving if they are being assisted in this part of their lives and just ensure it’s something that is being considered.
It’s so hard to watch someone hurting and in pain when all you want to do is wrap them in love and protect them and help them heal.
One of the most thoughtful gifts I received after Craig died was from PHNA (Pastoral Healthcare Network Australia). They sent two hand knitted shawls for Heidi and I. The idea being that I could wrap Heidi and myself in our shawls and feel comfort and warmth when we were feeling unbearable pain. I still wrap Heidi in hers sometimes, and I always keep mine close. It was a simple, but beautiful gesture.
Weighted blankets are also a beautiful and practical gift. I received one recently from Peaceful Lotus, a Melbourne based company. Much like receiving a big, warm hug and feeling a sense of calm, weighted blankets work on using Deep Pressure Stimulation to achieve the same feeling through a blanket.
Friends heaped on me beautiful gifts of lavender spray (to help me sleep at night), crystals that would bring love and protection, felt hearts for us to hold close to our own hearts, an intentional piece of jewellery from the incredible Violet Gray that I have worn every day, and of course rescue remedy – because quite frankly I needed rescuing!
I loved these little gifts from people that meant so much to me. All were given with the intention to heal and show Heidi and I how loved we are – what could be more beautiful that that!
This might be more for the avid reader out there, but as the reality of my grief set in, I was keen to read and learn about what I was going through and look for advice when it came to handling my own grief as well as reading about people with shared experiences.
Some helpful books to gift might be – Option B by Sheryl Sandberg, Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales and It’s Ok that you’re not OK by Megan Devine. But there is an abundance of books out there that might suit the person that is grieving.
Since my own grief experience I have authored Grief - a guided journal, that can help a person explore their grief through writing, after the death of a loved one. Writing is such a therapeutic thing to do, and can help in many ways.
Death can be an incredibly confusing time for children, and there are some great books that can help with this also. Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie, The Invisible String by Patrice Karst, The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup, The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr. Initially I found some children’s books quite confronting, but as time has gone on and as my daughter has asked more questions, they’ve been so helpful.
IN GOOD COMPANY
When grieving, especially as a widow/er, the nights can be lonely, long, frightening and anxiety inducing as you grapple with a new reality.
Offering to stay with someone that is recently bereaved can really help. My sister and brother-in-law literally moved in with me for two weeks with their 4-week-old son. I don’t know what I would have done without them and their company. It was someone to always talk to and help me make sense of what was going on around me.
You can provide a lot of comfort simply with your company.
I hope some of these ideas can help you find a way to reach out to someone grieving. Don’t be afraid, simply do.
And if all else fails, send wine, always send wine – no one will turn that stuff away. Well at least not in my instance!
Learn more about Jo’s journey as the second year of grieving for her husband passes, in her article Year two.