One of the horrible realities of getting older is that unfortunately, you are going to have to face death. Not your own, but that of loved ones. How each person deals with the loss of a loved one is very individual and I am not going to start giving out opinions on that. However, as someone that has experienced quite a lot of death and lost a parent through horrific circumstances, I know first-hand that friends tend to have no idea how to deal with this. Or specifically, how to deal with you.
People often think that death and tragedy require you to stay confined to your own four walls and with your family. Support each other. Be there for each other. Friends tend to back away because they feel it’s not their place to be there for you.
At times like this, your friends are exactly what you need. Chances are there are things you will say to a friend that you may not to a family member. Your family members are also grieving. If you are in the situation of losing a parent, which the older you get the more likely it is to happen, then you may also be having to care for and support your other parent. Friends will often tell you that they are there if you need them and to just ask. But you won’t ask. Nobody ever asks.
So, as a good friend, what can you do to help and support your friend in their time of need without them having to ask. Here are a few things I think are helpful based on my own experiences.
I’ve lost count of how many people said that to me. Like I was supposed to know what was ok to say. Like I, in the midst of having to deal with something absolutely awful, was considering their feelings. I didn’t know what to say! Let alone have the words for you to say as well. Sometimes there are no words. The words don’t even matter. It’s the showing up. The just being there. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes. As a friend, don’t feel like you are intruding. Granted there might be specific times when you are. But in the long drawn out days following someone’s death, there is often just a lot of sitting around, doing nothing and waiting. A friendly face is exactly what is needed.
Likewise, funerals. I know this can be tricky for some people. Nobody actually likes going to a funeral, especially if it’s someone you don’t really know. But this isn’t about you. It’s about your poor friend who is going through an awful time and burying their parent/partner/sibling or god forbid, child. Show up! Pay your respects and let your friend know that you are around and available if they need anything doing. It might be the smallest of things like checking on catering or ensuring there’s enough tea and coffee afterwards. But it’s those tiny details that your friend hasn’t got the mental capacity to be dealing with right now. And don’t be vague in your offer of help. Use terms such as what do you need me to do or shall I look after such and such a thing for you.
Make The Damn Tea
This is a tricky one. But, after experiencing a lot of death, I now hate flowers. Don’t get me wrong, the odd nice bunch here and there are great. But when you suddenly feel like your house is turning into a pop-up florist, another bunch of lilies is the last thing you want your visitors bringing. Plus, who owns that many vases? It just becomes another thing to stress about, putting the damn flowers you don’t want into water. Finding a vase to put them in. If you must bring flowers then at least bring the ones that are already in some sort of vase. And just for the record, I have terrible hayfever. Bring a lily into my house and I’m going to sneeze my head off. I don’t need hayfever as well as a funeral to deal with.
Better still, just bring cake.
Actually, that’s not a bad idea.
Ok, in all seriousness, just think about the flower thing for a minute. You should know your friend well enough to know what other thoughtful things you could give them instead of flowers. Just a little something that lets them know you are thinking of them. Don’t think that cake or chocolates are inappropriate here either. They aren’t if you know your friend loves them. What about some nice bath stuff or a candle. A nice, thoughtful gift that’s specifically for your friend will mean far more to them than a bunch of flowers that are just going to die. And prevent the onslaught of hayfever and a vase hunt.
Fake flowers! Now there’s an idea!
There’s no gold medal for having the best death story here. And besides, at a guess, my story will beat yours by a mile.
Food, Glorious Food
“You must eat. Keep your strength up. Make sure you get a proper meal inside you.”
How about instead of telling me I need to eat and all the rest of the crap you might revolve around food, you just bring me some food? Like how much easier would that make my day? And if you aren’t a very good cook or don’t know what to make me or fear giving me food poisoning, then send me a takeaway. Honestly, this isn’t me food begging. Making dinner every single night to ensure others ate became bloody hard work. Every single night thinking about what to cook, what others will eat. Running the gauntlet of going to the shops (which is shit by the way in a little village where everybody knows what’s happened to you).
Do The Shopping
Another helpful little gesture that will mean the world. You might not be able to manage to do a full weekly shop for someone, but most people are going to need the basics. Bread, milk, toilet rolls, washing powder etc. Just the everyday stuff that we all run out of on a regular basis. And if you can’t make it round then just send an Amazon Pantry order round. Nothing tells your friend how much you are thinking about them than having 20 bog rolls delivered. Seriously!
Do The Housework
Death brings visitors. And visitors bring mess. I would not be offended if you offered to run the hoover over the carpet or give the bathroom a quick clean so I’m not embarrassed when the death visitors arrive.
Or just the little things like load the dishwasher. Ask if they’ve any washing or ironing needs doing. Funeral clothes need a wash don’t they. Death stops us in our tracks but it doesn’t stop the dust from gathering or the grass from growing. Again, be specific in your offers of help. Insist don’t offer. Or if the friend is close enough, just do it anyway.
Do Something Nice
Just getting out of the house and away from all the death talk can be a lifeline for some people. Think of something your friend would like to do. Like a nice little treat. An afternoon tea. A country pub lunch. A walk in a scenic spot. A shopping trip. A spa visit. Or even just to get their hair or nails done. Something that reminds them that they are still themselves and it’s ok to be ok, even if it’s just for a few hours.
And following on from the doing something nice. Taking your friend out of their death situation will probably make them more relaxed and able to talk. They will probably talk more freely to you than other family members. They may have concerns or worries about the future that they just need to air. Or have feelings about the death that they need to share but not necessarily with their family.
If someone wants to talk then just listen. Try not to offer too much opinion or comparison as this is about them and their feelings may change from one minute to the next. Don’t force the talking though, just let them relax and talk about what they want to. Or don’t expect them to talk. Sometimes just getting out of the house and being quiet is a great help to someone.
This one is a personal experience one. In my situation it was a news event and as such people talked. I lived in a little village and everyone knew. It made it very difficult for me to venture out to the local shop without feeling watched. I also did hear some gossip about the circumstances and one person in particular that gossiped about details they couldn’t possibly have known and were actually incorrect. This didn’t help matters. Can you imagine how that made me feel? Can you imagine how I still feel about that person?
If someone’s death is sudden, tragic or horrific one, then please, for the sake of your friend, don’t gossip about it. Don’t pass comment to anyone and if you do know any details that aren’t public knowledge, then keep it to yourself. Likewise, if someone other than your friend tells you something about it, don’t take it as fact. Plus, it’s none of your business.
Don’t Share Online
Again this is a personal experience. Like I said mine was a news story and one that the local rag of a newspaper carried too soon. That story was shared on social media by people I knew, speculating about who it was and the circumstances. Comments were made by people I didn’t know, and not all nice. I saw these social media posts whilst I was sat on a train on my way home from work, unaware what/who was waiting for me when I did get home. Those comments are etched on my memory forever more. I can never unsee them.
Spare a thought for what you share online. The next time you are about to hit share on a story that involves something horrific and you don’t know the identity of that person, think how you would feel if it was your loved one? If it’s a local story then think about how you may well know that person or someone you know might. Is it really that important that you share this story on social media when chances are everyone you know will have seen it anyway?
Similarly, don’t post about your friends loss online unless you know for 100% fact they are ok with it. Some people really don’t want things out there for public consumption until they have digested events themselves. So no public posts on Facebook to them. Private message only.
Don’t harp on about getting back to normal. There is no normal anymore. Your friends normal will change now. They’d normally have a parent in their lives and now they don’t. This whole getting back to normal thing I found very irritating. Everyone has their own timeframe for being able to function properly again. Rushing things won’t help. Be supportive in letting them set their own pace and take their time.
But don’t vanish once the funeral is over. Often this is when the healing process can start. But if they have an inquest or other investigations or a complicated will to deal with, it can take a long time before a person is ready to start to heal. Things like birthdays and Christmas can be hard. Spare them a thought. Still be the amazing friend that brought them dinner or took them out for a nice walk. Just be the very best friend you possibly can be and someday your friend will be eternally grateful for what you did. Trust me.
If you think your friend may need a little bit more help than you with tea and cake, my lovely friend Jeff wrote a book on grief called The Grief Survival Guide. He knows what he’s talking about and this book will be an amazing resource for your friend to help them through.
** Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. You know how it is, a girls gotta eat.
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