In honor of the New Year’s tradition of making resolutions, here are my suggestions for what to do when someone you know is grieving:
- Send a real, physical card, whether you’re close or a casual acquaintance. Doesn’t matter if it’s six months after the death. Email is okay, but I was shocked at how high the email:card ratio was (that is, almost everyone only emailed). Doesn’t matter if it’s a dorky card, the words don’t matter anyway, a card shows you went to some effort and that’s what counts.
- Send flowers if you’re at all close. Send them a week after the funeral. Better yet, send a flowering plant that will communicate love for a long time.
- The first conversation is going to be awkward. Trust me, the bereaved knows all about that so don’t let that stop you from calling.
- Be sincere; a bereaved person is very open and vulnerable. I can’t tell you how many people left phone messages, all weepy saying “whatever I can do,” and then when I called them they didn’t really want to talk, or if I left a message they never called back. I could have done without those calls. If you think this is you, don’t call, send a card.
- Let the bereaved prattle on. In particular, let them talk about the person who died. I’ve been shocked how people seem to think I don’t want to talk about Arthur, as if I don’t want to be reminded he’s gone. Trust me, I can’t forget that, and I get a lot of pleasure telling stories about him.
- Don’t tell me how bad you feel for not calling him, etc. I’m not really interested in how you feel guilty for not spending more time with him.
- Don’t assume the mourner needs or wants company. For some people solitude is very healing.
- As time goes by, send another card, or two or three. It is so nice getting a card that just says ‘I’m thinking of you.” In other words, “I know you’re still hurting and you’re in my thoughts because I love you.”