Practical Help for the Bereaved
When death impacts those you love, you ask if there is anything you can do. You mean it sincerely, but you simply don’t know what to do. And the people you want to help may be hesitant to ask for anything specific or may simply not be able to identify the help they need, so it is vitally important to volunteer.
Here are some practical ways you can help the survivors.
During the first few days following the death or at the time of the funeral . . .
- Be a house sitter when the family is away from home making funeral arrangements, attending the visitation, the funeral or memorial service.
- Pick up mail and newspaper, water plants, and watch the house, if the funeral is out-of-town.
- Arrange for care of pets.
- Answer the telephone and record the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of callers; also note this information about people who personally visit. Ensure that incoming messages are recorded accurately and the information you are giving is correct.
- Notify relatives and friends of the death and the funeral arrangements.
- Clean the house and/or yard in anticipation of receiving funeral guests.
- Do the laundry, if needed.
- Record the name, address, and telephone number of those who bring food, including the type of food and a description of the container.
- Return clean food dishes and pans following the funeral.
- Wash and clean your friend’s car.
- Arrange housing for out-of-town guests.
- Coordinate or help prepare a get-together meal for the family and friends prior to or following the funeral.
- Offer to make an enlarged color copy of a special photo to display at the service.
- Write a description of the flowers on the backs of the cards.
- Help write thank-you notes or address envelopes to people who sent flowers, food, or made memorial contributions.
- Staff the guest register during visitation hours.
- Run errands to the grocery, the dry cleaners, or to the airport to pick up out-of-town guests.
- Offer transportation for the family or friends going to the cemetery.
- Collect the deceased’s belongings from the nursing home, if applicable.
- Arrange for the return of any rented medical equipment.
- Transport school age children or offer to keep young children.
- Check calendars; cancel the deceased’s appointments or reschedule your friend’s appointments.
- Send copies of the newspaper’s obituary notice to family members.
As the weeks go by . . .
- Do what you can to be sure your friend eats regularly.
- Organize a support network for meals, a night out, or visiting over the coming months.
- Suggest that your friend prepare a salad for dinner, while you bring a video and pizza. If the suggestion is refused, try again soon. Be persistent.
- Give some especially good photos to the family accompanied by a short narrative, including the date and names.
- Help decorate the house modestly for the holidays.
Emotional Help for the Bereaved
Even though these practical acts may help your friend emotionally, you may still not know what to say. You can’t fix the situation, or wave a magic wand and change the fact that a death has occurred, or take the hurt away.
However, during the first few days following the death or at the time of the funeral . . .
- You can say, “I’m sorry” or “I’m here for you.”
- Refer to the deceased by name.
- Appropriate hugging or holding is important. Like the child who skins a knee, the child who hurts emotionally often needs a hug.
- Give your friend the chance to share feelings about the deceased and the death. You could ask, “What happened?” This gives your friend the opportunity to talk about the person and the death, and accept the reality of the loss by mentally replaying the experience.
- Don’t be concerned that you are adding to your friend’s pain by talking often about the deceased. Chances are your friend is already thinking about the person and will probably welcome the chance to talk with someone who seems interested.
- You can ask, “How are you feeling?” or “How is your day going?” and be prepared to listen. Remember that some people like to talk about their feelings; others don’t. Be sensitive to your friend’s needs in this regard.
- Visit and call your friend after the funeral. Often the most difficult time for people is when everyone has gone home.
- Share with your friend a special poem, saying, or scripture verse that you personally have found comforting.
As the weeks go by . . .
- Volunteer to help dispose of the deceased’s belongings
- Offer to accompany your friend to the offices of Social Security, the attorney, the accountant, the court house, etc.
- Record the deceased’s birthday, wedding and death anniversaries on your calendar and send a memorial donation, flowers, or a card to family members in subsequent years.
- Share in writing with the family your favorite memories of the deceased. Not only will this act be good for you, it will be a precious gift to the family.
- Take your friend a holiday wreath or other floral arrangement, either purchased or home-grown.
- Give your friend a book on grief.
Help Your Own Family
You can help your family by planning your own funeral and related arrangements. In doing so, you can settle three important matters:
- Relieve your family of the burdensome decisions that must be made at the time of your death, thus giving them time to deal with their own grief and feelings.
- Prepay the costs at today’s prices, thereby saving your family money.
- Guarantee that you receive the kind of funeral you wish.
If you are interested in funeral preplanning, please visit our Preplanning pages