The world’s an uncertain place, making things equally pleasant and disturbing for us human beings. I lost my uncle’s whole family to a road accident last year and I understood how fragile our lives actually are. I was heartbroken imagining no matter how much I try and struggle, I cannot find my aunt in the whole wide world. I was coping with loss, had sleepless nights and had a traumatized family to look after.
It’s a weird feeling and there aren’t enough words to express the pain of losing someone. Condolences poured in and it irritated me every time someone handed me over a Hallmark® card sympathetically. I hated that no one understood what my family was going through by handling printed cards. But I realized later, it’s the maximum that they could do.
I understood that people around me cared, but they couldn’t comfort my family or me, even if they tried. My family wasn’t expecting people to understand their pain but to just be present for them. The loss was ours and it’s not entirely possible to feel the same way as we do. But yes, my family and I really appreciated the presence of our close ones.
What does it mean “To be present” for a grieving family?
It’s a phrase used by people looking out for a grieving friend or family. Everybody in a family has different ways of coping with the loss. One might want a coffee, while someone else might want to start making arrangements or just want some quiet time. What it means to be present is to make things available to them.
Understand that the family is in pain and is not thinking as effectively because of a duller mind frame. They have many other thoughts running in mind while trying to cope with the loss. What you can do is to think ahead of time, anticipate their needs, and plan accordingly. For example, a grieving person might not think of food and water. That doesn’t mean their body would stop needing it; the body doesn’t know they are grieving. Help them take better actions and decisions with an alert mind.
Here are 5 practical ways to help a grieving family:
1. Send something meaningful
not because it’s nice but because it brings a good change in their lives. It doesn’t necessarily have to be flowers, it could be anything you know the family enjoys together. Most people do not opt for flowers anymore for 2 reasons. First, they die eventually and it feels awkward to throw them away. Second, they smell and attract flies while they wilt. But you should still go ahead and send flowers or a plant to the family if you know others haven’t sent flowers.
You can also opt for the following alternatives:
- An elaborate home-cooked meal that requires effort to prepare.
- An assortment of self-care items that they wouldn’t care about themselves
- Thoughtful hand-written cards
- Items that can be kept as a memento or a token of joy
- A plant that would add a small change into their lives
2. Always offer practical support
Understand that life is much more than cards and small gestures. You might assume that you have already done your bit by sending a voucher or a letter and conveying your message. You might be expecting them to ask you when they need help. Understand that they already have a lot on their minds.
This is why it’s wise to offer practical support that can be of use to them instantly. There are many tasks that need daily attention irrespective of what’s happening in our lives. It could be walking their pet, doing the laundry, picking up groceries or running some errands for them. It could be any other support that you can offer that will be appreciated by the family. A friend had come over and landscaped my garden during my dark time. My whole family still appreciates the gesture every time they see the beautiful garden.
3. Just be there
Be available for them physically and mentally. They need to hear frequently that you will be available for them, no matter what. “Let me know if you need anything” is one of the most helpful phrases a family could use while grieving. Check on them continuously via calls and visits, offer a hug, call up randomly to check if they ate and just support them.
Be there with them even during sad and awkward times, when they are frustrated or sad. Just be present without any judgment or advice, let them blurt their emotions out in whatever way they are comfortable.
4. Encourage them to take a breather
The grieving family will be fighting with a lot of emotions themselves. They will be struggling with both the thought of facing the loss or forgetting the loss. It’s a constant battle between the two. Sometimes it’s just wise to distract yourself from the thought to find a solution you can deal with. Help the family by distracting themselves with an activity that will make them feel positive. Play a game together, go see a movie, or have a barbeque.
Don’t expect them to just move on. However, explain to them that it’s okay to get over their grief at any point in time.
5. Don’t forget
The family will eventually come to terms with life without forgetting the loss of their loved one. However, there will still be times when they miss this person in life. Help them manage their grief on special days, like birthdays, New Year’s, etc. Talk about happy memories of the deceased and cherish them together.