I heard the terrible news this summer that my friend Betsy’s husband was fighting for his life; he had an aggressive form of renal cancer. This family has been on my mind and in my heart more or less constantly ever since. Maybe it is because I lost a little brother to cancer a few years back or because I lost my father in a terrible accident when he was 50. These experiences, while bending us to our breaking point, helped me to amass some wisdom on what one can do to support a family who experiences the death of a loved one. Betsy’s husband died yesterday and so many of us would like to do something to support this family. These are three things that were so helpful when we experienced the death in our nuclear family.
Nice sentiment people always say: “Let me know if there is anything I can do for you”.
The better option: “I’m coming over to mow your lawn; which day is better for you, Monday or Tuesday?”.
Don’t put the onus on the grieved family to reach out and ask for help. Contact the family, offer a concrete service you really can do and set up the date you are going to do it. A person who loses a spouse has to run an entire household without the help of a partner. When my dad died, my mom found the lawn to be the most difficult task to manage alone.
Nice service people do: Bring casseroles and other foodstuffs the week of the funeral
The better option: Give a gift card to a restaurant or bring over a meal a month later
I have found that the American people often show their love and compassion to others by bringing food. This is a beautiful part of our culture! Another option is to give a gift card to a restaurant for later use or calling to schedule a day you can bring over a dinner for the family a month later. There is an extraordinary amount of support that pours out from the community during the funeral. A lot of that support ends after the funeral yet the grief continues. Those who continued to offer support after the funeral are people I appreciated so much.
Something nice people like to say at funerals: “God just needed another angel”, “God took him for a reason, just believe” and other cliches
The better option: Really share your heart!
God is almighty and doesn’t “take” our loved ones in order to create more angels. When cliches like these are spouted during a time of terrible loss, it can be hurtful. It made me sad when people implied that my loving Father in heaven would snatch away my little brother when he was just a child. Sometimes terrible things happen for no good reason. I do not think people who say these things mean to be hurtful; I think they just do not know what to say. If you don’t know what to say, that’s OK. Say what is in your heart. When I share my real feelings, I often say things like”I’m so sad” or “He meant so much to me. I can’t imagine our church community without him and his beautiful voice”.
Eternal rest grant unto Ray, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.