As I had just graduated from college at age 23, my world changed all too early in my life: I received a phone call from my mother that my Dad had suddenly passed away.
Traveling back to my hometown to be with my family, a whirlwind of emotions exhausted every second of every mile. Not only had my father’s death torn my heart in two, but I also learned my 15 year old brother had found my father after finishing basketball practice. I had been away from the family, from my Dad’s sickness, and I knew I had to be “OK” because they needed me. They experienced the unexpected shock of being present when he died and even though I too was suffering I had to be strong because I knew the visual memories would be haunting. The one good thing the loss of my Father gave me was personal experience and how to be there for loved ones.
At some point in each persons life there will come a day, when supporting yourself or a loved one after a loss, proves to be one of the hardest struggles we face. In writing this article, I wanted to create a list of the most important and meaningful and supportive things you can do to cope with the loss for you, your friends, or family member who suffered a deep loss.
1. Be Present.
The major difficulty with the loss of a loved one is that we often don’t know what to say to make their heart stop hurting. The best answer is you don’t have to worry about knowing exactly what to say; you just have to be there to listen, care, and even hold when needed.
Don’t try too hard to do or say the ‘right’ things and try not to feel like you have to fix everything for everyone. When my Dad died, people continued to say, “I’m sorry” and, with all due respect, after a while it felt numb and heartless…perhaps the anger of my loss projected onto them because I felt they didn’t understand, when in reality, none of us understood. However, while grieving the loss of my father, my cousin slowly walked up to me without saying a word, and tightly hugged me. Instantly a comforting feeling overwhelmed me. So much so, that I began to cry. It truly is ok to cry whether you are a “macho macho man” or a distant family member who is barely around. Letting the tears come out will surprisingly heal your heart deep inside of you.
Also, understand that as much as you would like to….you can not take away your loved one’s pain and you can not fully endure their loss for them because it’s unique for each person; however, you can help facilitate their healing by offering them emotional, spiritual, and social support.
When my Dad died, it was so much better to talk to my friends because I could be myself while not feel as if I had to be strong for them. I simply let go. If I wanted to break down at any moment, I wouldn’t think twice about doing it in front of my friends.
I didn’t have any problem crying or being absurdly angry amongst my friends and family because I knew we were all going through the same horrible situation in a similar way.
A friend of mine, Sharon, who had recently lost a loved one said, “sometimes, the only thing someone may need, who’s suffered a loss, is to sit next to a loved one – someone to listen and talk to, and to be still in the quietness of emotions, hold hands while they pray, or cry and rest on their shoulder.” Thank you, Sharon.
2. Help your loved one make appropriate funeral arrangements.
Be sure your loved one visits a few different funeral homes to get quality service at a reasonable price. Consider the funeral arrangements, such as a traditional burial with a headstone at a cemetery, which is the most common option, or trending now is cremation for loved ones. Next, it is important to help choose the best type of ceremony to honor your loved one in the most fitting way. Giving a second opinion can be of value because this is a time of blur and numbness for most.
But understand this is just the first step into consoling a loved one and helping them with their needs. Having more than one person make funeral arrangements can help to deal with discussing it out loud together. This will help bond your family closer and begin the grieving process.
3. Show Flexibility to Your Loved One
Sometimes a loved one may not know what it is they need, or their needs may change on a daily basis. You might think you know what is best for them at that moment, but it may not be what they truly need. So you may need to ask questions to receive actionable insights to what they want. Would you like to go for a walk to day? Would you like to get coffee with me or I could cook you dinner? Those are just two examples of offering help and support and ideas that they may need to spark their true desires.
Try your hardest not to pressure them, or make them feel rushed, upset or stressed if they seem indecisive. Sounding upbeat and offering more detail for each activity may help sway them in one way or another and get them out of the house to help get their mind off things.
4. Offer practical help with tasks
Many times, things go awry in households that lose a loved one. It is best to offer your assistance to tangible everyday tasks if you have the time. Many people will probably volunteer to cook, clean, offer childcare, or run errands so be sure you aren’t tackling all of it alone. Don’t be afraid to take the lead and coordinate help while assigning different things to different helpers. Do what you have time for and do what you feel most comfortable doing.
Try batching things together if you are running errands; combine you and your loved one’s needs in with yours. Try not to overlook any opportunity for support however small the job may seem. Actions many times will speak louder than words in these situations.
5. Take care of yourself, too
For being in a supportive role, most likely you’re also suffering with your loved one over the loss of a close friend or family member. Be strong for yourself by being healthy and trying to get enough rest to give yourself the emotional energy you need for you and for your loved ones. It’s ok to take “me” time if it benefits all of your loved ones. The healthier you are, the more able you are to be fully present and helpful for your loved one during this difficult time. Being conscious of your activities and your well being will prove to be therapeutic for your emotions, sadness and anxiety that you may also be suffering from along side your loved one.
6. Make them laugh
I know it sounds cliché, but…laughter really is the best medicine. Sharing memories of a loved one and saying funny things about them or what they would say if they were here is often enlightening humor that will help us get to the next day.
As for myself the silliness and laughter got me through some of the worst times when I thought I’d never stop crying. When I would hear myself laugh from within my heart and within my soul, there was a part of me that knew I was strong enough persevere through. Ultimately, I was extremely thankful for my friends and family members who shared those laughs with me. And still to this day I am just as thankful.