Last week the post I wrote about my grandmother back in May was re-posted in her honor. She passed away several weeks ago. For as many times I have had to live through the tragedy of saying goodbye to a loved one, I never took the time to think about the etiquette involved for the people around the person grieving. For lots of reasons I had a great deal of responsibilities surrounding my grandmother’s arrangements and as a result became a figurehead for the family. Lots of people looked to me for information that I didn’t always have and I found myself often in charge of making decisions on behalf of my grandmother based on what I thought she might want. It was a very strange and humbling experience. It did leave me with some advice based on my own personal experience for the next time you come in contact with someone who has lost a loved one.
Do offer your condolences. A simple “I’m sorry for your loss” speaks volumes. If you have a personal story about the deceased person please share it with their family members. My husband’s mother died 5 years ago and he still has every card with a personal story he received saved. Even if you have seen your grieving friend shortly after the death, follow up with a card.
Don’t get personal or heavy handed with the sympathy. This might sound off, but I honestly found no solace in hearing about how someone else’s grandmother died when I was grieving my own. Likewise, don’t go on and on with heavy sympathy when offering your condolences. For me, I spent the better part of a week on the edge of tears. I could keep myself composed if people were brief, but the longer people talked or made it about them the harder it was for me to hold it together.
Do offer your assistance. The grieving person has lots to deal with and is probably under a mental fog that makes organization confusing at a time when it is crucial. When offering help be as specific as possible. “Is there anything I can do?” is great, but “I’d like to help, can I XYZ?” is much better. BFF offered to come pick me up from the hospital if I didn’t feel comfortable driving. My cousin’s wife offered to handle arranging family pictures If your friend is forced to handle the difficult task of emptying a deceased person’s home after their death offer to help. This task was utterly overwhelming for me in a way that I didn’t anticipate. Assistance with this task was invaluable.
Don’t ask inappropriate questions or make comments based on assumptions. You’d be surprised, but there were many people who asked me how my grandmother died, as if that was any business of anyone outside my family. To be sure, if I want you to have the information I’ll give it to you. Also, many people made comments like “she won’t be suffering anymore” or “she’s in a better place”. Unless you know specifically one’s cause of death or their loved ones’ personal feelings on the afterlife it’s best to refrain from such comments and revert to “I’m sorry for your loss”. Likewise, if you have a personal history with the deceased that may not be favorable, do not share it with their loved ones. I had a rather uncomfortable conversation with a distant relative at my grandmother’s service who felt inclined to tell me some not so nice things about my father who has been dead for 36 years.
Do show up. This is one of the most important life lessons I have learned. Being there for someone in their time of sadness is something that I guarantee they will never forget. If you have a friend who has experienced a loss and you can attend the services, do it. Take the time to go through the receiving line and introduce yourself to the deceased’s family and make a connection about how you know that person or their family member. It brought me great comfort to stand in a sea of people and now that they were all their to honor my grandmother and that some of my friends were there to support me. Never doubt that a seemingly small act on your part could be seen as a truly great one for someone else.
I hope you will find this advice helpful. I’m sure there are other tips for these situations that I’ve forgotten, please feel free to share them in the comments.