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How to Help a Grieving Friend

A friend of mine recently asked how she could help her dear friend whose husband died unexpectedly. It's hard for me to remember much about those early days of grief. But I do remember some things that helped a lot.

Helpful ways my friends and family cared for me in early grief:

  • Reached out and kept reaching out. Let me know there was no expectation to respond. Just checked in and let me know they were there for me.

  • Texted or called or sent cards on each month's anniversary of his death for the first year (and some still do this 2 years later).

  • Reached out on Valentine’s Day, Easter, Greg's birthday, my birthday, our son's birthday, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. I didn't realize how many holidays there are until I had to celebrate them all for the first time without Greg.

  • Flowers. It’s hard to explain how much having fresh flowers regularly sent to my house meant. It was also a source of fresh flowers to take to Greg's grave without having to go to a store and experience difficult grief-emotions in public.

  • Traveled from hours and/or states away for his burial and memorial service (these were 7 months apart due to COVID-19).

  • Sent meals and groceries and didn’t ask me to make decisions for what we wanted or needed. Just sent staples and lots of extras- especially at first when family members were staying with us and there were extra people to feed.

  • Asked simple questions such as, "What are you tired of eating?", "Would you rather have soup or pasta?", "Can I baby-sit for you on (day and time) or (day and time)?" instead of saying, "Let me know if you need anything."

  • Sent cards regularly to let me know they were thinking of me.

  • Sent little care packages or gifts for P. Wrote down memories of Greg that P would enjoy hearing - especially memories of Greg and P together.

  • Didn’t try to cheer me up or find the “bright side” or remind me that Heaven is better for Greg. Didn't try to give an explanation for why God allowed Greg to die. Simply let me know they missed Greg and hated that he died too.

  • Hugs. Tea. Blankets. Coffee. Candles. Chocolate. Gift cards.

  • Acknowledged that gifts are a poor substitute for my husband's presence but that they wanted me to know I was seen and loved and not alone.

  • Prayed, prayed, prayed and kept on praying.

  • Checked in with me a lot at night. Night is often the worst time of day for grieving people, especially widows and children.

  • Didn't drop in unannounced unless they were leaving something on my porch with no expectation of spending time with me.

  • Picked up my son for play dates or let me drop him off at their homes so I could take care of responsibilities or even just take a much-needed nap.

  • Helped my son buy me gifts for my birthday, Christmas and Mother's Day (and even better, surprised me each time!).

  • Became emergency contacts for myself and my son since I no longer had a husband to be our emergency contact.

  • Made phone calls for me that were difficult or emotional, such as canceling Greg's upcoming doctor and dentist appointments or letting the pharmacy know he had died and would no longer need his prescriptions.

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