I, like so many people, have experienced profound grief. I lost my mother and only parent when I was 12. I was plucked up from my home in Gretna, LA, a suburb of New Orleans and sent to live with cousins in Arkansas for whom I am eternally grateful. I ended up naming my children after them because they are my family. They adopted me shortly after I arrived. (UPDATE: Now, just days ago in July of 2019, my adoptive mother died.) Then in 2008, I lost one of my closest friends in a high-profile murder in Little Rock, AR. Anne Pressly was a TV news anchor who died five days after a heinous attack in her home. I was devastated. In 2017, my best friend’s husband died. He was the executor of our wills, and he and his wife were to raise our children in the event of the deaths of my husband and me. After these deaths, I started keeping a list of things to do and not to do when someone dies. Let’s get started with what NOT to do.
Don’t say, “call me if you need anything.” Those in grief don’t know what they need. They probably can’t even think of your name if pressed. Grief affects memory. Just do something for the grieving family.
Don’t stay too long when serving them. If you take food, drop it off. Then scoot out the door. Those in grief have a hard time watching you in those awkward moments where you are weeping more than the grieving family.
Don’t say, “God needed an angel.” Or “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Neither is biblical. Just stop it.
"I know how you feel." No, you don’t. You haven't lost the loved one that person lost. Everyone’s grief is so unique.
“When my (husband, brother, wife, mother, sister, daughter) died, I…” No one asked you. I hate to be blunt. But come on. You had your time. Just listen.
Now some things you can say and do.
“I will miss your loved one, too.”
“I have a housekeeper coming tomorrow.” This was something I did for my friend. Even though she’s my best friend, I asked her, “would you rather strangers come clean your home or friends?” She quickly answered, “strangers.” I got the message loud and clear. She didn’t want to be judged by friends on her home. I get it. So the housekeepers came a couple of times and that helped her so much.
I live in the south. We always feed people when someone dies, a baby is born, or a new neighbor moves in. Food is always a great idea. You can begin a meal train by using an online source for people to sign up.
Take paper products. Those don’t spoil.
What about clothing? I know this sounds petty but depending on family size, everyone needs funeral clothing. Some families have different standards than what you have so find out. New clothes? Thrift store clothing?
Clean up the family’s yard or wherever they will be receiving guests.
Plant flowers or have something nice in the front yard to show signs of life in the home.
Help with the obituary if you’re a writer. It’s one way I knew for certain I could serve my friend. She and her family thank me often.
The Bible says to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, grieve with those who grieve.” There is a time for both. They will see joy again; it just might take more time than you could ever imagine.