Peggy Sanders: How to help a mourning friend
Most of us have had the experience of a friend or neighbor dying, and we have wondered what to do. The common first reaction is to cook food — comfort food — and trot it over to the family.
A drawback to that is that the refrigerator will hold only so much. After it is full, the family has a dilemma on its hands. Do they decline your offer (and risk offending you) or take the food, knowing full well that it can’t be properly cared for and might end up in the trash?
Over the years, I’ve observed things that can be done for the grieving that don’t involve perishable foods.
Pauline Hageman, a long-deceased country neighbor of ours at Oral, used to take a box of non-perishables to the family. On various occasions, it contained a box or two of cold cereal, a can of coffee, napkins, paper plates, Kleenex and a good-sized package of toilet paper. It may have been selected from what she had on hand that was extra, because country people always tend to stock up. The beauty of these items is that they were necessities, but they would keep without refrigeration.
Maybe you aren’t so good with sitting and grieving, but you make the condolence call and upon leaving, say, “Call me if you need anything.” You are sincere, but the urgency of details surrounding a death are overwhelming for the family. If no one calls, you may assume that nothing is needed. Perhaps a better stance would be to offer to do something specific such as mow the lawn or water the yard — tasks that need to be done, but when the family is so busy, don’t get done.
You might offer to vacuum and wash the family’s car or to baby-sit the little ones in the family during the funeral service. This is especially helpful for out-of-town family members who don’t know anyone. Think of what you can do, then make the offer.
I once had the privilege of being at a family’s house and answering the phone while the family members were being gathered at the airport in Rapid City. For the callers, it was nice that they didn’t have to talk to a machine and could have their questions answered as much as I was able. In a way, it might have even been a relief when I identified myself and they knew they weren’t talking to a family member, not so soon after the death. When the callers left messages I wrote in a notebook so the family could read them later or at least noted who had phoned. As visitors stopped by I wrote their names and what they brought, if anything. All of these small gestures made it easier for the family to respond appropriately later.
Any of these ideas are acts of love. They are good for the family, good for you and good for the soul. ❖