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A Slice of the Pie: Actions greater than words – Supporting a grieving friend

In the days leading up to my 17th birthday, my grandfather unexpectedly passed away. The days that followed were – unsurprisingly – a blur. But there were moments, mostly having to do with the way the community stepped forward to support us, the grieving family, that have stuck with me through all these years. 

First, I recall the food – the refrigerator packed and the countertops lined with casseroles – so helpful with crowds of family and friends flowing through my grandmother’s house and no one up to the task of cooking.

And then there were the cards – stacks of them – which brought us together – the women in our family sitting under an unseasonably warm spring sun, skimming the impersonal, reading the notable aloud. It was a moment of joy during an otherwise sad and confusing time, the cards, a visual representation of the lives my grandfather had touched. 

It was those small gestures and so many more that helped my family get through weeks of heartache. And so, it has been to these same gestures that I have returned when someone I love is facing hardship or grief – I’ve made food and I’ve written cards. But recently I’ve begun to wonder, is there more that I could be doing to be of service when a loved one is in need?

And so, I conducted some research and asked a few friends: what is one thing someone did or said when you were going through a tough time that really helped? The answers were enlightening.

Don’t be afraid to reach out. Call, text or send a personal note – let them know you are thinking about them, especially on the date of a major medical procedure or during a significant holiday.

“[T]he people who kept checking on me long after the funeral, remembering important dates (birthday, anniversary of death, etc.), and making sure we knew that they would remember our son with us, forever.”

Be direct. Know what you are willing to provide and ask if you can provide it. That can mean delivering groceries or a meal, organizing a meal train, cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, walking the dog, taking the kids to school, delivering items to the hospital, giving the primary caregiver a break or providing transportation to an appointment or procedure.

“Actions are greater than words in this scenario. I can’t tell you the amount of times I heard ‘I’m sorry.’ It actually never helped.”

Remember your loved one’s favorites. Drinks, foods, movies or music.

“Bring me a coffee, invite me out for a beer or grab a taco at lunch. Sit down and just listen to me grieve. Don’t wait till I’m ready.”

Instead of sending flowers, consider purchasing a gift card to a meal service or a nearby restaurant that offers take out.

“Grief groceries…. or gift cards for food that just showed up. What a blessing.”

Physically be there. But stay home if you are sick or think you might become sick and don’t overstay your welcome.

When listening to your loved one’s story, remember that every situation is unique, and their experience is different than your own. 

“[Someone] offered to come have tea with me and let me be in grief with tears…not having to talk… then made me a nourishing meal later and told me silly stories.”

Ask, “How are you doing?” and then wait for the complete answer.

“She showed up and just listened and walked with me. Just. Simple. Heroic.”

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