I’ve learned a lot about what happens when you lose someone unexpectedly in the last few years. Death is an ugly word, but something we go through more and more as we get older. The beauty in it is watching family and friends rally around to support and love on those left here wondering why this happened and how are we going to go on.

But sometimes it’s hard to know what to do. Those of us on the sidelines of a loss can feel paralyzed by our desire to help, to show love, but not to intrude or presume. And unfortunately, there is no guidebook on how to appropriately mourn someone, because everyone goes through it a little differently.

I thought I would write up things I have observed in helping families and friends deal with loss, or learned through my own experiences. And I would love other input, if you have something you found helpful.

  • Visitors are GREAT! Don’t shy away, especially from the kids. Call or text ahead if you want, but the distraction provided is awesome for getting through the day. Space yourselves apart over a few days or a few weeks. It helps to talk through what happened for some people dealing with grief. Some would rather that you guide the conversation with mundane, everyday stuff, so that they can relax and not think about their loss for a little while. What usually happens is that there are a LOT of visitors the first few days, then the funeral, and then everyone goes back to their normal lives, except the family who lost someone. So be a true friend and make sure you keep checking in, stay close, send notes of love. Bring puppies if you can.
  • Share memories – all the funny stories, the sweet things you’ll remember about that person, how they had an impact on your life.
dancing with uncle jim
  • Offer to hang out in the weeks to come – Call and check in about a week after the service. Go for a walk, to coffee, to the movies. Don’t force talking about it, but allow it to happen if the person wants it.

  • Flowers are Lovely – but there will probably be a billion of them. Flowers are great if you weren’t especially close with the family. But if you were close, think of something the family would enjoy in the days to come. For my uncle, for example, some of my cousin’s friends got a gift card for the family to his favorite restaurant. Or you could offer tickets to his favorite sporting event, or just a nice card with memories. Or a mix CD. Or photos. This kind of stuff can be hard to come up with, but means a lot.
  • Sign up to bring meals – there are great websites out there that will organize all this for you. Offer to be a coordinator for the family, and set it up. When you bring meals, it’s nice if it’s not in a dish the family will have to clean and return to you. Include paper plates and things they can throw away. Include salad and wine!
  • Offer to help with whatever you’re good at – my aunt has a really nice friend who is going to help with finances and getting papers organized. Some handy man came over and fixed the toilet. Someone offered to walk the dog. Someone else is working on checking the pool. Our aunt is figuring out all the food for the reception. Tangible ways to help are fantastic. Especially if you’ve been through this before, you know all the details that we haven’t figured out yet.
  • Love on the kids – It’s been really cool to see my cousin’s friends, teachers, former baby-sitters, and other adults in their lives come around and take them out for a drink, to the movies, shooting random things in their backyards :). I know it helps my aunt and it gets the kids out of the house and doing something.
  • Remember the big occasions – Often the first few days or weeks are just auto-pilot for a family in mourning. Especially if it is a family member that worked a lot out of the home, or traveled frequently, or was in the army. It’s going to be the next big occasion that makes things really real, like his birthday, or a graduation, or Christmas. It is so sweet to remember those big occasions for the family, and send a nice note to let them know you are thinking of them.
  • Allow for time and space and whatever it takes– It’s hard to predict how someone will get through something difficult. Sometimes I shut down. Or I think if I eat or drink enough, I won’t feel it anymore. Sometimes I want to talk on the phone, sometimes I want to lose my phone. After a close family friend death a few years ago, we karaoked. For my uncle, it felt right to shot-gun a Coors Lite. I always want to look at pictures. Sometimes I just want someone to hold me and sometimes I wish everyone would pretend nothing
    nothing like family. putting the "Fun" in "funeral." celebrating barbara's life.

    has every happened.

    Writing always helps me…but everyone reacts differently. But I know that I have been touched by friends who understand that about me, like after Carly’s death when I just stayed home, ignored the phone, drank too much wine and wrote and wrote and wrote. And then I wanted to hike all the time, and I couldn’t stop googling for more information about what happened.

    What is important is just letting people know that you are there, that you understand or you want to understand, and that when this is all over, you’ll still be there. I am so touched by the facebook messages, texts, prayers, and love I have received from friends and family and work people. Thank you all for loving on me.