It’s sometimes hard to believe two years have passed since Mom’s death. I wrote this article in the fall of 2018 but did not share it. Shawn and I made so many trips to West Virginia in 2018 that we memorized the road from Raleigh to Saint Albans, all 700 miles and 14 hours of it. Some weeks we made the trip twice. Losing a loved one is hard, but when the event happens away from home, the load grows heavier.
On our journey, we were blessed by strangers who became friends as they lifted our spirits.
- The oncology nurse who invested hours texting and talking with us to share solid advice and add reality to the fog of cancer.
- The helpful city government worker who had known Mom for years and helped us to navigate red tape.
- The retired administrator who aided Mom for months and took us under wing.
- The building maintenance expert who visited Mom several times at Hospice then helped me through the funeral arrangements.
- The friend who made the trip from NC to support us at the funeral and stayed over to help at the cemetery. Love on wheels for sure.
I won’t try to name all the names as I will surely leave someone out, but let it be known that our impromptu support group was instrumental in helping us handle difficult days.
Some people shared a desire to help us but confessed they never knew how, and overwhelmed with details and decisions, I could offer no useful guidance. One morning in the car Shawn and I discussed a mini-guide of ideas we might consider in helping our next friend who loses a loved one. Perhaps these will be useful. Hopefully the list will trigger your creativity, and I’d ask you to use the comments section to add your ideas. What tangible actions by friends helped you most when your loved one died?
Being there is more important than speaking the right words.
Job’s friend in the Old Testament might have considered this option, right? Many folks shy away from ministering to a grieving friend out of fear of saying the wrong thing or having no words to speak.
Don’t be afraid to laugh with your grieving friend.
Text him a joke or a funny picture. Lighten the mood. One who is swimming in grief can use a different type of emotional stimulation.
Don’t ask. Just do.
Most of the time the question, “How can I help you?” will be answered with “There’s nothing anyone can do.” Listen to God’s prompting in your heart and follow through.
Help with the simple stuff.
One of our struggles during our weeks in WV was disposing of the trash at Mom’s house. Trash was picked up once a week if it was placed by the curb on Thursday mornings. But there were roaming neighborhood dogs that ripped the bags open, so depositing it early was not an option. Sometimes we were not on site before Thursday’s pickup, and Mom’s little town did not have a convenience center where one may drop trash out of schedule. We drove the alleys looking for unguarded dumpsters until a neighbor offered to help, and Shawn mentioned our dilemma. We were instructed to drop the bags over the fence and worry about bigger issues.
Here are some simple ideas:
- Take the dirty laundry and bring it back clean and folded.
- Deliver a pizza or something easy that requires no prep or cleanup for the family and works with no dishes to return.
- If the lawn needs mowing get it done.
- Wash and vacuum the car.
It’s OK to talk about the lost loved one.
Share your story of how your life was touched by her. Help your grieving friend retrieve happy memories.
Don’t rehearse your experience with your loved one’s suffering and passing.
Those gory details are not helpful, uplifting or encouraging in the moment. Don’t interpret the vulnerability of a grieving friend as your opportunity to offload emotional baggage.
Keep visits short.
If the grieving ones are yawning and struggling to stay with the conversation that is a good sign their biggest need is rest.
It’s been two years for us, but the kindness of those who helped and encouraged us lingers in our hearts. I know ministering to others has been complicated by COVID-19 with all the social distancing restrictions, but with some creativity we might find ways to continue.
Image source: Counseling & Wellness Center of Pittsburgh