How do you help when someone dies? We’ve all faced it or we will at some point. I never lost anyone close to me until I lost both of my parents in 2015. Talk about opening up a “big ol’ can of whoop-ass” on the emotions.
When you know someone who has had a death in the family, you feel such empathy for their loss. You want to do something. Some people are good at jumping in and figuring out something to do.
Others of us want to “do something” but we become paralyzed because we don’t know what to do. I confess that before I lost my parents, that was me a lot of the time. But what I came to realize is that any gesture, no matter how small, ministered to my heart in such a profound way. A kind word, a card, text, phone call or just showing up gave me comfort. So here are 19 Practical Ways To Help When Someone Dies.
19 Practical Ways to Help When Someone Dies
People will be coming. Either out of town guests for the funeral or friends who just stop by. Here are some things that your friends will need:
- Paper goods – plates, napkins, cutlery, styrofoam coffee cups, plastic drinking cups, toilet paper, napkins, paper towels, garbage bags.
- Canned soft drinks, bottled water, coffee.
- Meals – Lots of times neighbors and friends show up pretty soon after a person dies with a cake or casserole and that it good. But if you can coordinate meals through a service like Take Them A Meal, you can communicate with those who want to help the family’s special dietary needs, preferences and drop-off arrangements. Taking care of all of these details is so appreciated.
- Drive your friend to the funeral home when she has to make funeral arrangements.
- Pick up out of town guests at the airport.
- Drive out of town guests or elderly family members to and from the funeral.
- Take kids to and from school.
Funeral arrangements – We planned what I consider your basic, standard funeral for my parents. Nice, but nothing that I would consider elaborate. Yet, there was still a lot to do at a time when I didn’t feel like doing anything. Here are some areas where you may be able to help:
- Video presentation – At many funerals, there is some kind of video presentation showing pictures of the deceased. This is a lovely way to honor them and share beautiful memories with all who attend. But getting all those pictures together in one spot, scanning those that need to be scanned and sending them to the funeral home takes a long time. Ask if you can help with that.
- Help them locate and download the music they want for the presentation.
- Take things that will be needed to the funeral home for them. Clothes for the deceased. Any memorabilia that they will display. We had a big portrait of each of my parents. And for my Dad, we had lots of stuff to display from his time in the military and his years of service as a policeman.
- Help them get the word out about the funeral arrangements to those who need to know.
- If an honorarium will be paid to the minister or musicians, get that from your friend and see that it is given to the appropriate person.
- After the funeral, gather the pictures and memorabilia, flag, guest book – anything that was brought to the funeral home that needs to be returned and deliver it to the family.
- Gather any flowers or plants the family wants to keep and deliver those to them. You may need to get several friends to help you with that.
After The Funeral
- If the deceased has been living in assisted living or nursing home, the family only has a certain amount of time to collect their belongings. Get boxes and offer to go and help pack things up.
- If it is a situation where there is a deep financial need, set up a fundraising campaign on a site like Go Fund Me.
- Call on a regular basis, especially on those first holidays and anniversaries.
- Send a card.
- Send a handwritten note with a memory of the person’s loved one. If it’s someone you have a picture of, send that too. When we lose someone, we still want to talk about them and know that others remember them too.
The important thing in helping someone who has suffered the loss of a loved one is to “anticipate, don’t ask”, according to grief counselor, Megan Devine (refugeingrief.com).
Do not say “Call me if you need anything,” because your friend will not call. Not because they do not need, but because identifying a need, figuring out who might fill that need, and then making a phone call to ask is light years beyond their energy levels, capacity or interest. Instead, make concrete offers: “I will be there at 4 p.m. on Thursday to bring your recycling to the curb,” or “I will stop by each morning on my way to work and give the dog a quick walk.” Be reliable. – How to Help a Grieving Friend – 11 Things to Do When You’re Not Sure What to Do by Megan Devine
I remember the most thoughtful thing my good friends did for me after my dad died. They gave me a gift card for a spa day. You see, my mom had a stroke in January and died in February. My dad broke his hip in July and died in September. Most days during those 9 months were spent in hospitals, rehabs and assisted living with them. I don’t regret a moment I spent with my parents, but when it was all over, I was tired. That gift card to the spa said to me “We see you. We see what you’ve been going through. Here is something to help you take care of you.”
You might also like:
What to do When Your Friend Loses A Baby
How to Talk to Your Parents About Their Funeral Arrangements
You’ve really thought this out so well, Cathy! I know the feeling of wanting to help, but not sure what to do can be worrisome! I know I’ve been guilty of saying, “call me if you need me” because I don’t know what else to do or say. Once you’ve been through it, it is easier to know. But this is such a great reminder!
Thanks for working with me on this project!
Enjoyed it, Jodie! I’d do another one with you in a minute!
Wow, this is perfectly written. I have always been the worker bee at weddings, funerals and other family events because, well I love to organize things. LOL. This is a very valuable post that all of us can benefit from!
People like you are exactly what is needed when there is a death in the family! Sounds like you always find the perfect way to help, Rebecca!
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I recently lost my father, and I find this advice helpful and useful. I was exhausted for weeks after the funeral and realized I had been going non-stop for days on end. I loved it when someone showed up with just the right thing, whether it was cookies shaped like hearts or a bottle vodka and some Bloody Mary Mix and some garnishes.
Hi, Cathy. Death is something our culture doesn’t embrace or talk about much. Having a list like this is truly helpful especially as it comes from someone who knows what it’s like to lose someone close to them.
The point about anticipating instead of asking because the grief-stricken won’t ask is so on point. During this time people are emotional and oftentimes on autopilot so every decision drains them.
Will check out caring meals.
Stopping in via the Blogger’s Pit Stop ^_^
Thank you, Sara. That Caring Meals site is great for any occasion when you need to have people provide meals.
My best friends, twins, just lost their dad. He took his own life. They live far away from me, and from each other. We’ve had group texts, emails and I call each every few days. That’s really all I can do. He was cremated and they’ll have a family-only memorial service. But the grieving continues and all I can do is be there for them.
Your suggestions are wonderful and very helpful. Thank you for writing this very important post.
Such a sad, sad situation. And you are doing what you can. And I know that is so meaningful to them. I’m glad you found the suggestions in the post helpful, Cathy.
I am one of those that “knowing what to” do doesn’t come naturally. I have a large, food-centric family, so there is usually plenty of food to go around, but all of these other ideas are things that I never thought of before.
Same here, Jennifer. But I’ve learned that any gesture is appreciated. Glad you found some useful suggestions in the post.
A very thoughtful, helpful list. I lost both of my parents and a sister several years, ago, and every bit of help we received was most appreciated.
Last year, my sister died of leukemia and my parents were completely distraught, so my husband, my other sister and I took over all the funeral arrangements so that Mom and Dad didn’t have to worry about a single thing. Later, they thanked us and said they were extremely grateful for this because they wouldn’t have been able to do anything during a time of such grief. Your suggestions are helpful, and they come in handy for anyone who wants to help somebody in need. Simply saying, “call me if you need anything” is not enough. If you really want… Read more »
I especially like transportation. Particularly if the death was a surprise, the bereaved may be in no shape to drive for a few days… and even if that’s not an issue, they’re already running ragged. Having someone else pick up relatives or kids is a great help!
This is really helpful Cathy. During these times the people who have lost the loved one feel like they are living in a haze. Some good practical tips here. Thanks for sharing with us at #OvertheMoon. I’ve pinned and shared.
SO helpful! I never quite know what to do and even what to say. I am so sorry you lost both your parents in the same year that must have been so hard. Pinned.
Thank you, Joanne. Glad you found the post helpful. Thank you for pinning.
All good tips Cathy even if there is not a funeral! A friend’s mother died and her wish was no funeral. My friend still grieved and she complained to me that she did not get even one casserole including from me. Won’t let that happen again! I sent a card, and called but just because there wasn’t a funeral I didn’t make some food? Bad on me! I look forward to what to wear to a funeral. I have been to 2 where guest s were asked to wear Hawaiian style clothes and another to wear white!
Haralee – it is so hard to know what to do! I think that no matter what, just make an effort, which is what you did. I don’t know if I would have thought to bring food either. Sounds like the funerals you recently attended were planned with the deceased in mind – what they would have enjoyed.
This is an excellent list. I always feel so helpless trying to be supportive. Thank you for sharing.
Raya – so glad the post gave you some ideas. I think a lot of us feel the way you do.
This is such a great list. Far too often, people vaguely say “If there’s anything you need, let me know.” Your way is better!
Valerie – before I experienced loss, I was one of those people! Hopefully we can all be a little better prepared to respond in a way that is truly helpful. Thanks for reading.
SO helpful. Particularly the “don’t ask” piece, because you’re right, it’s too much work for a person who’s grieving. I won’t forget this, and when I’m in the situation again I’ll have a specific contribution already worked out.
Great, Susan! I think it’s a wonderful idea to already have one or two things that you can do in mind.
This is amazing. Thank you so much. We just lost our 4 month old granddaughter last month. I wish I had this article then because a lot of people could have stood to read it.
Michelle, I am so sad for you. What a devastating loss. I hope you and your family have had many people surround you with love and care. I am so sorry.
I would also add, don’t just do “something” right afterward, the months and sometimes years of grieving are hard, be there for your friend and just let them talk….
Renee – you are so right. The need to be there extends long after the funeral.
As more of us face losses of family and friends as we age, this is such a timely post, Cathy. Thanks for the really practical suggestions.
Roxanne – you are right. It’s the stage of life that we are in. Glad you found the suggestions practical. Thanks for reading and commenting.
What an important message to all of us. Loss happens, and there so are so many times we want to help but have trouble finding ways to volunteer to show our support, presence, and love. I remember when my father died, I was 10 and my brothers 5 and 4 mos. While mom made funeral arrangements with my grandmother, some of my grandfather’s employees volunteered to take my brother to Chuck E. Cheese. It was a great and appreciated distraction. When my cousin died, leaving a ten year old son, I had in the reception area of the funeral waiting,… Read more »
What a wonderful thing that your grandfather’s employees did for you and your siblings. And what a thoughtful thing you did for your cousin’s son. It just takes a little thought and putting yourself if another’s position and you can usually find a meaningful way to reach out. I am sure that gift bag will always be remembered with fondness & love that was received at a devastating time.
Thank you so much for including my grief products …. and for the helpful post.
Clicked over from the Blogger’s PitStop
SUCH a great article – very well thought out and comprehensive. Great to see Jodie over here too – we had a great time when we collaborated on a week’s worth of posts a while back. I’m sure your upcoming colab. will be great! Looking forward to it.
(Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
“It takes a village to transform a world!
Timely post for me to read with great information. We just had a neighbor lose her husband. Thanks for sharing at The Blogger’s Pit Stop! Roseann from http://www.thisautoimmunelife.com
Cathy, I think we must be on the same wave length! That’s 3 blogpost of yours that I have clicked on in Bloggers’ Pit Stop tonight. Another excellent post. I have a hard time with funerals. I worry about intruding and being a bother versus how to be truly helpful. Your post gave me some concrete ideas to implement.
Linda – we must be! I have always been the same way about funerals. And even though I wrote this post, we had a friend die last fall and I had to go back and read my own post to come up with something to do! Glad I wrote it.
Such a practical and helpful post, Cathy. We will feature this on the next Blogger’s Pit Stop. Your very thoughtful ideas will be very useful, as you say we are all touched by losing loved ones sooner or later.
Blogger’s Pit Stop
Kathleen – thanks so much for the feature. I am glad you found the post so helpful.
This is an excellent post. Everyone needs to see this. It was so hard when my mother passed. It would have been great to have this to refer people to as you get so tired of the asking. “What can I do?” I had no clue what anyone could do as I was trying to figure out what I needed to do myself. Would love for you to share this over at #WoW Words on Wednesday Linky http://www.eclecticevelyn.com/words-on-wednesday-linky-party-4/
Evelyn, so glad you found it helpful. It is so hard to know what to do. I’ll share it at the party on Wednesday.
Having said goodbye to more people than anyone should have to I can certainly say that this is a great list of ways to help people who are grieving.
Thanks, Elise. I am sorry that you have suffered so much loss.
We had church folks bring in toilet paper and paper towels. They politely brought them in, placed them in the appropriate areas,and left with no fuss! During those dark days their quite kindness was a breath of peace
Juanita – that is wonderful. You just have no idea what will be needed until you’ve been there. Glad your church family was there for you.
Thank you for this post. I recently lost my 21 year old son, he had a problem with his brain since birth that we didn’t know about. If I might add one thing, if you make promises to the person that has lost someone please keep the promise or let them know you can’t. People mean well and in the shock of losing someone they make promises only to not follow through. It makes me feel like they have already forgotten my son and it has only been less than 3 months.
Joy – that is something I had not thought of and that is so important. I’m so sorry you lost your son. Thanks so much for bringing this important reminder to the My Side of 50 readers.
Cathy, your ideas are so spot on and helpful! My sister-in -law just lost her dad, whom I did not know, and I want to do something for her mom. This list was so good, not being close to that part of her family left me unsure about how to help. Thank you for these tips! God bless you! Keep up the great work!
Margie, I’m so glad you found it helpful! Thanks for letting me know!
I love this super heartwarming articles relating to help either relatives,friends,couple and church member of the deceased loved one relieved their grieves and sorrow in the impromptu hard breaking moment of life.The author of this article sounds like one of my nicest teacher teaching me in English freshmen year in USA.