My best friend’s child died unexpectedly. I have not been able to visit or call her as I do not know what to say so I have just stayed away. I know she is hurting but I am lost. What can I do? – Libby
Dear Libby, everyone is hurting, including you. A parent never expects to outlive a child as that seems out of nature’s order…yet it happens far more often than most people realize. I understand your reluctance to contact your friend AND she does need you and that need will not go away. Most likely, there have been a group of ‘first responders’ – these are family and friends who appear almost immediately after a death to support and care for the family. Usually within a month, this group has returned to their own lives and routines and the bereaved family is left more or less to themselves. This can be a very lonely time, the weeks and months of less notice coupled with thoughts and feelings that the rest of the world has forgotten and moved on. This is when your friend will need you even more. Also if you are a parent, you may realize that your friend is living your worst nightmare. Please do not pull back on that account. Too many friendships are lost over fear when what is most needed is love and compassion…not pity, compassion.
For now, if you do not feel you can visit and ‘be’ with your friend, call or send her a personal note to let her know that you are thinking of her and want to help. Include a special memory of the deceased. Make arrangements to drop off a meal for the family (please skip tuna casserole, chicken and lasagna). If that is too much a stretch for you, include a restaurant gift card in your note. Families have to eat and they also need to get out or at least, have take-out with a menu of their choosing.
- Stay in contact
- Make a donation or a gift in memory of the deceased
- Arrange or provide services that are helpful – meals, errands, house cleaning, yard service, helping with other children in transportation or care, covering work duties, writing thank you notes
- Share your own memories of the deceased in conversations and notes
- Be a good listener and allow the ‘elephant in the room’ to speak
- Replace fear with love and acceptance
- Be available and present without needing to say or do anything
- Cry with your friend
- Avoid saying “I know how you feel”. You don’t / you can’t
- Be a light distraction if that is what your friend wants. This can include sharing day- to-day ‘normal’ happenings, going to a movie or planning an escape day
- Do NOT bring stories to the bereaved of other deaths and tragedies nor tales of people cured by the disease/circumstance that befell their beloved
- Expect changes in mood and demeanor and do not judge or give orders
- Note the birthday or other special days of the deceased and send notes to family as those dates near