Am always very sorry to hear of loved ones passing, especially if it was unexpected. As many people as there are in the family affected by a sudden loss, there are as many ways for friends to extend support and comfort them. In my family, everyone took it a little differently. Some were very private about it. Another more open with their grief. Some slid into depression. Some buried themselves in work. Everyone processes differently and there is no “proper” way about it. Hopefully amongst the close friends and family there isn’t any comments about how one “should” feel or act a certain way. We need to be gracious to each other with regards to how each person might be coping.
I found that generally, because each person might appreciate different gestures of comfort, you almost need to ask them what would work for them….but not in a broad “what would you like right now” sense because there’s so many thoughts and emotions in their mind that it’s hard to think of anything. I found questions like “If I did _____ for you, would that be helpful?” or “Would you want ____ right now?” or “Do you want company or just want to have some space?” or “Do you want to talk?” to be helpful….ask yes/no questions.
Personally, when I was in the depths of grieving, I didn’t feel like I should “burden” my friends with requests for company or anything else. I didn’t want to be a bother considering everyone else had their own families and work to attend to. But my good friends Dahn and Meth pretty much reprimanded me in saying I was insulting their friendship by not turning to them when they have offered to be there for me. I’m not saying you should reprimand your grieving friend by any means…but that worked for me. I needed to receive permission to lean on my friends. And I found my family did as well, though they heard it differently from their friends. So, let your friend know (maybe repeatedly) you EXPECT them to ask things of you.
Gift baskets are also nice. I like them for the practical aspect that they last a little longer than flowers do. But I would suggest if you’re putting a basket together, to include the foods and snack items that the family or friend would enjoy. We’re an Asian family and we received baskets of different jams and crackers and dip mixes. It was a very nice gift basket, but my family doesn’t really eat a lot of those kinds of foods. If it was roasted nuts, dried mangos, fruit and egg tarts however, that would’ve been more our thing. Find out what their comfort foods are. I would say hold off on restaurant gift certificates because often there are celebrations going on in restaurants, and it’s a bummer to sit next to one when you’re grieving.
Bringing meals may be a better idea. Meal planning when your heart and mind is overtaken by grief is a burden. Appetites are also not good, so a light meal is enough. Sometimes, if you ask whether they’d like a meal brought, they may decline…as to not burden you…but for us, it was nice having friends suddenly show up with a pan of fried noodles or a pot of soup to leave for us at the door.
And sometimes, just offering to go over and sit together is good too. Jewish ppl have a term for that…”sitting shiva”…where after a funeral, friends/community come together and just sit. You don’t have to offer any words of comfort or really try to do anything. Just sit and share the sorrow. That’s often more comforting than anything you might think of saying.
Lastly, don’t take anything they might do or say right now personally. Grief can take hold and change a person. Keep them in prayers and walk alongside them if they invite you to. Walk alongside them from a distance if they don’t. In time, we become more ourselves again. And we will be thankful for those who walked with us the whole way.
On the flip side, if you are a grieving family member, I am very sorry for your loss and what you are going through. I’ve been there. Some days you’re not sure if you’ll make it through, but it DOES get better. Know that your friends want to be there for you. Know also that they cannot read your mind to know what you would most appreciate being done or said. Their assumptions of what you might want could be exactly what you DON’T want. Don’t be afraid to let your friends know what would be comforting to you. This makes it better for everyone. Allow them to be there for you. They love you and care for you. God’s peace and comfort is upon you, through them.