They say, for better or worse, the tough times show your truest friends and loved ones. I learned that nearly six years ago when I was suddenly paralyzed, in the hospital for a month and eventually diagnosed with a rare neurological condition, and more recently when my father passed away in December. Some people will wow you, and others will inevitably disappoint.
In honesty, I think most want to be there for you; it's hard to know how to react when someone is grieving. You want to be there, yet you don't want to bother or intrude. I know I probably haven't stepped up in the best way to others over the years but I also know it's never too late to demonstrate care, love, concern and compassion.
During my recent period of loss of my dad, I've been so humbled by friends and simply good acquaintances -- not those closest to me but those who I'm connected to via Facebook or wherever -- who sent snail mail cards, who made a donation in my dad's honor, or who called or sent a personal text because a Facebook post didn't feel sufficient to them. Those tiny acts meant more than words can describe.
Here are eight ways you can be there for someone who is grieving:
1. Be Present. Without a doubt, your presence matters most. Just be there. The rabbi at my dad's funeral shared that there is no right thing to say... there's nothing or very little comforting you can say to someone who is deeply hurting. You being there for them in whatever way they need you is what matters.
2. Do NOT say "it will be OK." This is a personal pet peeve but really, you don't know that, none of us do, and it will not be OK. Not having my dad... that's not OK and it never will be. I'll learn to live with it and smile at years of memories but in the foreseeable future, it will not be OK. Please do not say it will be.
3. Send little emails, text or phone calls. They may not respond, and that's ok... be persistent. Check in, offer hugs and food and magazines and distractions, or an ear to listen. Offer to help with anything they're trying to get done for their loved one. Following my father's death, you're physically and emotionally drained yet there is so, so much to do, particularly if it's unexpected.
4. Make a donation in someone's honor. Make a donation to a cause of their request or one that you know might be close to their heart. The organization will usually send them a card to alert them. While flowers are beautiful and I love having them around my house, I found it ironic that just a week later, I was cleaning up dead flowers in multiple rooms. Plus, flowers are expensive... put that money to good use (donation... or food!).
5. Put together a care package. A few ideas include packaging up their favorites -- snacks, books or magazines -- and even something indulgent like a massage or manicure. This person likely hasn't been taking care of him or herself so provide them a welcome opportunity to take a moment for them. Another care package idea: send a "Little Basket of Sunshine" with yellow-themed items (blanket, candle, etc -- Homegoods is a great resource!), with a note saying that you're sending warm thoughts.
6. Write a handwritten note. I was really impressed how many handwritten notes we received. Such a simple act that took less than 10 minutes had a profound impact and touched my heart. You can never go wrong when you do something with love, and snail mail is the best. I'm sure I'll have these cards for years to come.
7. Don't compare grief. I know this is a tough one as people are simply trying to find a connection however it can feel awkward as conversations shift about other people's mothers, fathers, siblings or relatives who have passed away, or related illnesses. I struggled with the right words and felt awkward if I didn't want to get into a whole conversation. It's only said with care and the interest in connecting however if you feel it's appropriate to mention, consider qualifying it by saying, "I'm not looking to compare grief or experiences, just that I understand and am here for you."
8. Follow up weeks later. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is reaching out the first and second week during any crisis. It's all such a blur. I was exhausted, my brain was all over and the reality hadn't even settled in. I remember saying to my husband a week later, man, I wish half the people who so generously delivered food waited a week. We wound up giving away and even throwing out some food when a week later I had no desire to cook, just wanted to lay in bed and yet, had no real meals to eat or serve my family. It's also when the calls and emails slow. Maybe make a note in your phone calendar to follow up a few weeks or even one month later to send love.
There are so many ways you can be present and provide love and comfort to someone who is going through a tough time.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at email@example.com.