While grief and loss are sticky and uncomfortable situations for many to experience, there are things that one can do to help the bereaved. About four years ago, I began to do research for my forthcoming book, "A Widow's Guide to Healing" and I interviewed widows from all different backgrounds about their experiences. They often reported that one of the most frustrating things about their grief was that others seemed to ignore them, and didn't offer any help. It may be the case that some well- meaning people simply do not know what to do and instead of stepping in to ask how they can help, they just walk away.
Here are six things you can do to help someone in grief:
Share a meal with someone. Often the grief is most palpable during the meals when it is difficult to ignore that the loved one is gone. Feeling their absence can result in emotional eating and sometimes this means overeating and/ or not eating nutrient rich meals. In doing my interviews with widows, many widows reported that eating alone left them feeling more depressed. Grief can leave many feeling fatigued and preparing a meal is not something they have the energy to do.
Make the telephone call. Connecting with someone via text message or email is not the same. Yes, in our hurried lives, sending a message is easier, but it is not equal to an in person conversation. And do not be afraid of silence. If there is a gap, it is okay. The silence does not mean that you said something wrong. You can always add, "I wanted to let you know that I am thinking of you." A telephone call can break up some of the tension for the bereaved. Also, it is important to note that they may not talk about their loved one, but just want someone to talk with about other things. A conversation often cuts through some of the loneliness.
Extend your support on birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. While you may not be able to be there for all of these days, the deceased person's birthday can be an especially tender day for the bereaved. They are thinking about the age their loved one would be, how they would celebrate, what kind of card they would buy them, and it is gut- wrenching. Calling them, sending them a thoughtful card or better yet seeing them around these important days can mean the world to them.
Bring the bereaved a small token of love. This may be a special dessert you made or a gift that you bought, and whatever the object is this gesture is thoughtful. They will appreciate your kindness and have something tangible to hold. After my husband's funeral, a dear friend sent me a card with a beautiful bookmark with a prayer on it. For weeks, I kept that bookmark in my purse. Not only did I find the prayer meaningful, but the bookmark was a gentle reminder of our friendship.
Send them photos or items that belonged to the deceased. This may sound odd if you have not experienced any loss, but those experiencing grief do want to have anything that was once belonged to their loved one. Any photos, no matter the quality are also of value to them. Several years after my father died, my paternal uncle sent me letters that my father wrote to him. The letters mean more to me than words can express.
Help them out with household and/ or auto maintenance. Now this may sound odd but many forget to check on their car and / or home until it is too late and a repair is needed. And seeking out help when there is an actual problem can be quite stressful. One widow, I spoke with took great pride in keeping her home clean. After her husband died, she went back to her full time job and found it nearly impossible with two young children to keep up her home. She recalled that clutter began to accumulate which created more stress because she felt disorganized. When she saw her gutters fill with leaves she cried because in the past this was something her husband had taken care of. She shared her frustration with another church member who then arranged for others to take care of her home repairs several times a year.
While you can't do everything, simply doing something is a thoughtful expression of kindness. And no deed is too small to be appreciated.
Kristin Meekhof is a master's level clinical social worker and author of the forthcoming book "A Widow's Guide to Healing". It is available for pre-order and published on November 3, 2015 from Sourcebooks. She can be reached at Kristin@kristinmeekhof.com or her website.