what to do

This is a followup to today’s earlier post.  My spouse and I went by, our friends were alone, we hugged them a lot and sat with them for an hour while they cried and talked.  I’m glad I went.  The younger generation is asking me what they should do.  I thought you’d be interested, as a lot of older people don’t know either.   Many of you have had to be on the receiving end of this, so you may want to tweak the advice I gave the kids.  Here’s what I wrote (edited to be generic):  You don’t have to do a lot. Showing up is 90%. They are going to feel terrible no matter what, but they will remember that other people cared enough to show up. You don’t need to — it isn’t helpful to — try to say anything to make it better. You can’t. You just say how sorry you are and listen to them and, in a low key way, tell stories you remember about the good times you had with them. They are likely to cry and this is normal. It’s OK to remember funny and happy things, it is OK to laugh. It is OK to cry. Offer to leave every 15 minutes or so. If there is food out, it is ok to eat it. (People bring LOTS of food to the houses where there has been a death.)   These things are not done on appointments.  The hardest thing is know whether to call ahead.  Talking on the phone is really hard when you are grieving (your voice chokes up) and calling someone to say how sorry you are is not good unless you are a really close relative or friend and you are manifestly too far away to get there.  So you just kind of go over, and if it turns out to be a bad time, you come back a different time.   Or, if they have someone to handle the phone, you talk to that person to find out if it would be a good time to come over.  Or maybe call just to ask whether it is ok to come over.

Author: olderwoman

I'm a sociology professor but not only a sociology professor. I keep my name out of this blog because I don't want my name associated with it in a Google search. Although I never write anything in a public forum like a blog that I'd be ashamed to have associated with my name (and you shouldn't either), it is illegal for me to use my position as a public employee to advance my religious or political views, and the pseudonym helps to preserve the distinction between my public and private identities. The pseudonym also helps to protect the people I may write about in describing public or semi-public events I've been involved with. You can read about my academic work on my academic blog http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/soc/racepoliticsjustice/ --Pam Oliver

4 thoughts on “what to do”

  1. Thanks, OW. I was in a situation recently where I was very much at a loss as to how to proceed. A neighbor’s 26 yr old son had fallen off a balcony and died. It was devastating like these others stories here. What made it a bit different from the situation you describe is that I had never met the son and I only know the neighbor so well. She’s been great with the community, but I don’t know her much personally and so I wasn’t sure how much my presence would even be welcomed.


  2. and keep doing all these things for a long time — most folks say the hardest part is a few days after the funeral and such is done. everyone goes on about their business and the mourners are just starting to feel the reality of the loss because prior to that ithas been all visits and casseroles and planning events and making decisions.


  3. a while ago i read this book on grieving: And the Passenger Was Death: The Drama and Trauma of Losing a Child (Death, Value and Meaning). it helped me with some healing that’s unrelated to losing a child, but i would think this is especially relevant to those who share the same experience of losing a child. the author’s case was more dramatic — his son fell off of a roof at his workplace and it was never conclusive if it was a suicide, an accident, or something else. the book documented the author’s (a counseling psychologist himself) grieving process in much detail and it has some similar insight as OW shared here.

    when my apt manager’s son died a couple of years ago of an heart attack, one of our neighbors brought her food and postal stamp (for sending cards and letters to people), and it was very much appreciated.


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