Many families may feel overwhelmed and bombarded with support in the first couple weeks after a death. In the months to follow, they may feel abandoned and forgotten by their community even though their grief is still very fresh.
Below are some ideas on how to support a family through grief and to continue to offer support beyond the first weeks.
Immediate Ways to Offer support
Reminder: Don’t do anything that is irreversible without asking first. For example: The cup in the living room might be the last thing the person touched or drank out of.
Meal Train: Find out what types of foods they want. Try to avoid too many sweets and unhealthy options. Protein, fruits, and vegetables are good choices.
Assign a point person for the family that can arrange a meal train, visitors, donations, etc. A sign on the door can be helpful: green (visitors welcome) and red (not today but try again tomorrow). Don’t take offense if the family turns you away; it just means not today.
Support for all members of the family includes:
- Siblings: Reach out specifically to siblings if the loss was a child.
- Men: They can often be forgotten, so make sure you provide avenues for men to express their experience.
For loss of a child, buy a necklace with the child’s name on it.
Have a team of first responders, then a team of second responders, then a team to check in with them. It’s a lot and heavy — the responders need to process and need support too. Have a few families make meals for the first responders.
After the First Three Months
Suggest people send cards at three, six, nine, and 12 months. Set reminders in your phone — and purchase cards in advance so you already have them.
Encourage the community to make a copy of photos of the person and send them with a note about a memory you have. Families love receiving a picture that they might not have yet.
Remember the death date and send a card during that month.
Remember the person’s birthday and reach out to the family to ask what they would like to do in honor of his/her life.
Other Things to Remember
Grief is as personal as it is unique. Don’t try to fix it or relate it to something you have experienced. You may have had the same loss, but it does not mean you are grieving the same way.
Give freedom for the person to talk without you asking too many questions. This helps to stay present and only state the truth instead of assuming how they are feeling. Example: “I can’t imagine your pain. I’m here.” Give them control.
Give freedom for tears, anger, guilt, and every other emotion. Offer to take a grieving person somewhere where anger can be expressed safely (like boxing or throwing water balloons).
Above all: be present, listen, and cry with them. Ask if they would like to talk about the loved one. Stories, memories, things they miss.
Don’t be afraid to use the loved one’s name. Families find comfort in hearing his/her name.
Make sure to have support for yourself since experiencing someone else’s pain can be deeply painful.
A Haven is an Exton-based nonprofit that offers various grief support groups and grief resources for families with children, teens, and young adults (ages 3-24) who have experienced the death of someone they know. All support groups are offered at no cost to families. A Haven utilizes a family-centered approach, acknowledging that empowering families to walk through grief together is an important piece in supporting a grieving child. Learn more.