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.
The intermingling of great joy and great sorrow goes on. My daughter told us ten days ago that she and her boyfriend plan to marry soon — this is a joy. Then she became unexpectedly unemployed and she had to focus on that, diverting attention from wedding plans. And there are various hassles with getting my son and his girlfriend moved into an apartment. The roller coaster of life. I was going to post about that when I had a chance.
But now the shock. Dan, a childhood friend of my son was killed yesterday in an auto crash. There was a five-year period when six boys gamed together every Friday night. For the first few years, the gaming was hosted by the Dan’s parents, and then later it moved to our house. Dan drifted away from the group about the time they graduated high school, and the other boys have not seen him much in recent years. My spouse and I remain friends with his parents through church and have seen Dan playing piano at church (he was a superb musician) and at his graduation party in May. It is hard to think of much else. Besides my son, I’m in communication with some of the other boys, including some who live elsewhere but happen to be planning to be in town this weekend. And church folks are exchanging messages about how to help out and funeral planning. I’ll be going over the parents’ house soon, food in hand. I don’t know whether they will want me to hang around for comfort, or leave them in the hands of people closer to them.