How to Help a Grieving Friend

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After receiving service from others during grief, and recently watching a family member, I wanted to share my thoughts on how to help a grieving friend.  Often people want to ask, “How are you Doing?” but really, we could all be a little more thoughtful than asking something that no one really knows how to answer in the aftermath of a loved ones death. Let’s all just plan to avoid that question. There are better ways for how to help a grieving friend or family member.

How to help a grieving friend

My mom passed away 3 years ago, and for weeks I felt I was in a deep fog. The service rendered to me by dear friends has stuck with me.  And I want to share this with you in order to give you ideas on how to help a grieving friend.   I also just had the opportunity to help my sister in law after the death of her husband, my husband losing a brother.  So I have added more ideas on serving a family with young children after the loss of their father.

Bring a Meal

One of the most common ways to help a grieving friend is to bring a meal.  The most mundane of tasks can be challenging when grief sets in. I didn’t think I needed it from people, and was surprised when the meals kept coming beyond day 1, but I was oh so grateful.  Even though I felt like there were others who might need this more than me, I tried to let people serve.  Because I know I wouldn’t want to be turned down if I offered.

I felt super awkward when a good friend of mine offered to set up a  Care Calendar, which would allow people to pick a day, but when people wer texting me and asking me to all bring on day 2, I thought it would probably be a good idea, because I was getting confused. I had like 10 people offer to bring a meal on that first day, and I felt kinda silly saying, we have something covered today, I felt so bad that I had to turn them away!

So, my suggestion when offering a meal is say, “I’d love to bring a meal, can I tomorrow, or is another day better? What are dislikes/allergies?” It helped me to name a day, instead of just saying that they day they suggested, didn’t work. As someone receiving a meal, BE HONEST! Don’t say, “we like everything” when you really don’t. People need something to go by.

I also had a friend out of state deliver Walmart groceries + a soft blanket to me. Included was the fixins for a meal, and a handful of snacks, which I thought was a great idea! Another friend sent me $25 via Venmo and said, “get some pizza on me!” while another friend actually called in a pizza order. How thoughtful is that?

Bring a treat.

Another way to to help a grieving friend is to drop off a small treat.  This can be in the form of cookies, a fruit basket, muffins, etc. Even if I wasn’t feeling up to eating a treat, my kids were.  A neighbor dropped off a bag full of cookies, it doesn’t have to be a major investment to show you care.  Another friend brought a fruit platter, a jug of lemonade, and an “i love you” balloon that she wanted to put on my front porch. Another friend, just brought a tub of cookie dough, because she knew how much I loved to eat it. No effort, just thought a few $’s.

andes mint chocolate cookies

{My favorite Andes Mint Chocolate Cookies}

Drop off flowers.

Dropping off flowers is a great way to help a grieving friend.  I’ve always told my husband to not bring me flowers for anniversaries and Valentines Day. Too cliche, I didn’t think I cared that much about them. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the flower arrangements that were dropped off or delivered.  Mostly because I saw it as so extremely thoughtful that someone would a) take the time to pick something out on my behalf and b) spend the money. I know flowers can be pricey, and the arrangements that I got were minimum $10, and I know some a lot more. It brought tears to my eyes each time a new arrangement was dropped off, and it truly meant so much.

funeral flowers

Grocery Shopping

I had lots of people say to me, “Let me know if you need anything from the store”.  But I felt silly actually taking the step to ask. But, taking care of the grocery shopping is a really great way to help a grieving friend.  What I really loved, was when someone would say, “I’m going to the store in an hour, what can I grab for you?”  Then I KNEW they were already going, and I wouldn’t be too much of a pain asking to grab an item or two.

Another offer that was helpful was when they would say, “I am going to bring you milk, bread, and bananas.  Is there anything else that you need”  Then they may actually say something they want/need.  I had so many people say they’d love to help, but I hated the idea of asking them to go to the store just for me. But if I knew they were already going, it was so much easier for me to say, “I’d love some Gala apples, thank you so much!”  I had fruit, milk, apples, and a few other things dropped off.  Often, when I offered to pay, they declined my offer.  I did ask a friend to pick up something that was nearly $100, but I insisted that I wouldn’t take it if they wouldn’t let me pay for it.

Offer Your Skills

Help a grieving friend by offering your services.  What is your skill set? What is a talent you have that you can offer up? I had one friend in Chicago say to me, “I know I can’t do much from a far, but I can help with photoshop or computer or photography something.” When I needed some help on the computer, I went straight to her. Though I didn’t need photoshop, it was something that reminded me that she can do something from afar.

Because she offered something specific, it brought to mind something else I could ask her to do. I had her go through my facebook page, and copy and paste the 300 comments that people left there. And she pulled out the stories that people shared and paste them into a word document. Because she was so helpful and quick with this, I also asked her to help me edit the obituary I wrote for my mom, because I knew she also had writing skills. Thank you, Liz!

My other friend, Amy, is a seamstress. She offered to make a quilt out of my mom’s clothes.  And because she had offered her sewing services, it was much easier for me to reach out to her and ask her to help me make dresses for my girls for the funeral service.

Another friends came to plant flowers in my yard.  I think she meant to do this without me finding out. She didn’t knock on my door, but just unloading the flowers and gardening tools from her car and went to work.  For a good hour, she sat on her knees and dug up the weeds that were there, and planted beautiful flowers. She used her skills in a way to serve me that meant so much. I know that she has lost her mother, and I’ve found that people “who know” truly seem to know the need to do something.

Visit Them

Maybe the best way to help a grieving friend is to visit them.  I loved talking over and over, and just having a listening ear. There was so much going on, so many details to sort out, and it was nice to have people listen.

I know it’s a challenge to not know what to do, but the friends that stopped over meant the most to me.  They were not really sure what they were going to do or say, but they came. In their faces I saw that their heart was hurting on my behalf. I didn’t really need a token or gift, it was the friends who dropped everything the moment they found out, to run over, that meant so much to me. I really only called one person to inform them. Friends from growing up heard through a “grapevine” and I got calls from a few of my closest friends out of state that knew my mom well. But my local friends, they really stepped up to the plate, and it really meant a lot.

Share Memories

Sharing your favorite memories is a very personal way to help a grieving friend.  One of the greatest gifts I’ve received were stories and memories of my mom from those that knew her.  My local friends didn’t too much, but when people that she knew on facebook would say, “I have so many fond memories of your mom” or “she taught me so much” I replied back and said, “I’d love to hear specific stories or examples so that we can put them in the memory book for the grandchildren!” So many stories have trickled in, that I truly adore.

Send a Letter

If you do not live close enough to help a grieving friend in person, send a card or a letter to your friend.  After the first week, I started to receive things in the mail from friends far away.  I received a fruit bouquet, chocolate covered strawberries, a locket necklace, magazines that I loved, a gold strawberry necklace charm from friends who knew how much my mom loved strawberries.  But it was never the actual gift that was important.  It was always the thought behind it. So send a card or a letter, a text or even a Facebook message.  Reaching out means so much.

Close up of woman’s hands writing in spiral notepad placed on wooden desktop with various items

That list above, I came up with after my mom passed away.  Here are a few added to the list after losing a brother a few weeks ago.

Something New to Wear

I had asked her ahead of time if she would like a new dress for the funeral services. To help her feel an extra ounce of confidence, headed into the daunting even. She agreed, and I was so delighted to help her in that effort. It spiraled into helping to find suits for the boys and a dress for her daughter.

A Simple Massage

I was with my sister in law for 3 days leading up to the services.  I helped organize photographs and created the funeral program.  While there, I offered a shoulder and neck massage and I was so happy she took me up on it!  A simple ease of tension.

Conversations with the Kids

Stay completely away from asking the kids “how are you doing”.  Instead think of ways to get to know them.  Ask about life, bring them a treat, or just get to know what they love to do. They need to talk about something else, and unless we are really close to them, we need to leave the heavy conversations to those that are. I enjoyed chatting with my niece and nephew, and I believe my sister in law was grateful they were getting some attention that didn’t have to do with death.

Replenish water/tissues

At my brother in laws viewing, his wife greeted guests for over two hours.  She stood 5 feet from his casket, in heels, mostly by herself.  She offered hugs and shed tears and listened to strangers and friends alike offer condolences. While there, I noticed a ball of tissues in her hand.  So I just went over to her in between people and swapped out her used tissues for a fresh one. I probably did this 10-15 times in that two hours, and it felt useful and needed. Also offering sips of water and mints in between well wishers along with that. I’d never seen anyone do that before, I just saw a need and filled it. Maybe someone else can benefit from those observations in the future.

After polling my community on @KristenDukeChats instagram, I got a few other ideas from them:

  • “I’m on my way to Costco, send me your list!”
  • Washing sheets/doing laundry/cleaning home
  • Friends teaching your kids skills and keep them occupied
  • Healthy snacks (not just treats!)
  • Paper products to eat off of
  • Offering photography skills (whether pro or not)
  • Just listening!

I have mostly written 3 other posts that stem from my recent funeral experience, hoping it can help others. So watch for them to be published soon.

If you have a friend or loved one that has experienced a loss, I hope some of these ideas for how to help a grieving friend will help you reach out to them.

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