Thursday, May 3, 2012

What to do when someone dies

Not you. Not your immediate family. The family or close friend of someone else, and you are wanting to pay your respects.

I also want to say that I understand that a lot of times people just aren't sure what to do. So here's some advice from a family that just went thru it.

I have at least one story for each of these. But for the sake of others' privacy, I won't share.


- remember it's not about you
Like, at all. Offering to do a tribute at the visitation or funeral is nice. But don't push it. And stop putting your name on everything. Repeatedly. It's not about you.

- send a card
Cards are great because those mourning can open them when they are ready, and they don't require any face-to-face reaction.

- stop asking how everyone is doing
The thought is nice, but pretty much everyone is grieving and sad. I know it's habit more than anything, but a better questions is "do you need anything?"
That and trying to contort my face into a sad one when I was actually having a pretty good moment, just so I'll seem sincere... well, it gets old. Just let me enjoy my good moment, 'kay?

- offer to bring food (
this would also apply for births, hospitalizations, etc)

But ask first. Hopefully someone is coordinating. If not, the fact that you even asked will be appreciated by the family. Especially when they receive 3 lasagnas on the same day. The family will remember that you asked before showing up. They really will. (I could seriously write a whole post on the food thing. Maybe I will).

- don't stay more than 15 minutes
Exception for close family members and friends. But staying for 7 hours to visit with the family? Excessive. Not only are they tired of entertaining you, there's also a good chance there's work they need to get done to prepare for the visitation / funeral, and you being there hinders that. And stop eating the free food that others have brought for the family. Especially if you didn't bring any.

- if the immediate family includes a small child, offer to babysit
Depending on how much work needs to be done to prepare for the visitation / funeral, a babysitter can be a God-send. And even if they don't need it, the offer will be appreciated.

- don't overestimate how close you are to the family
This requires you to be others-focused and humble, but seriously, don't think you're more important than you are. If they didn't call you when the deceased went into the hospital, chances are you aren't as close to them as you think you are.

- do something
Even if you feel awkward. Whether you bring food, send a card, stop by (for a few minutes), or call to see if they need anything, the family will take notice of who does these things, and who doesn't.

- go to the visitation / funeral
If you are able, go. If for some reason you cannot attend, send flowers. The family does notice. Even if you can't stay long. Even if you don't say a word, show up. It is appreciated.

- if you do attend the visitation / funeral, don't wander into the private family room
Even if you're (extended) family. And for crying-out-loud, don't eat the food in there. This is a private area for the grieving family to escape to if they need it, and to grab a bite if they need it after being on their feet for 3+ hours. This is not for you. If no one in the immediate family escorted you there, then it is not for you.
*side note* I didn't even know there were such things as private family rooms in funeral homes until 2 weeks ago...

- if you send flowers, put your address on the back of the card

This is seriously a very small detail, but I just finished writing out 'thank you' cards, so...
If the flower shop offers it, write it. The fact is that even though the funeral is over, the family is still grieving, tired, and stressed. But they will still likely send you a "thank you" card. Make it easier for them. (I could probably do a post on flowers too. Maybe I should)


In fact, the whole point of this post, is to help you make it easier on the grieving family. Nothing can change the fact that they are mourning the loss of a loved one. Nothing can make them happy before they are ready. But you can take some steps to make their lives a little bit easier in the days & weeks to come. And especially in these situations, every little bit helps.

What about you guys? Any other suggestions?


Diane said...

I can relate to many of these. I received so many cards and there were even a few people who kept sending them periodically to me throughout the first year after I lost my husband. I still have every single one of them.

The thing that bothered me the most was having someone say that they knew how I felt when they clearly did not. I also hated when someone would say, "if there's anything we can do, just let us know." The ones who just showed up and did were among my greatest blessings during that time.

Melissa said...

Thank you for this. I'm going to copy and save it. I never know what to do or not do, I always second guess myself, until I end up doing nothing.

At some point, I apparently did pick up on not to ask people how they were doing (Duh?), so at the last funeral I attended I just hugged the family and said I was so sorry. I hope that was okay.

Whattodowhen said...

Thanks for sharing this post. Death of loved one is unbearable when they leaves you unexpectedly. A common question in the minds of many at this situation is what to do when someone dies. A highly avoidable situation is this scenario is to avoid visiting the place.

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