11 Tips for Helping a Friend Through Loss or Illness
Back in March I wrote an update about my husband's illness and the journey we were on together. Sadly, he passed away on May 5th, 2014. I'm still in shock, but throughout all of this, I've received and continue to receive tremendous support. I couldn't have gotten this far without it. I know I'll be okay.
So I'd like to share these tips that may help others who have learned about a friend's passing or serious illness. You may not know what to say or do, or you're afraid you'll call at the wrong time. Just know that there is no wrong time, and when your words are coming out of caring and compassion, there are no wrong words. Sometimes there are no words that need to be said. Just be there.
So here are my tips on how you can help:
1. It’s okay to call. Don’t wait for what you think is the “right” time or wait for the dust to settle. If you feel the urge to call, it’s the right time. That person has probably sent out a wishful thought to the universe that someone would reach out to them and you just got their message. And it’s okay to call more than once.
2. Drop in unexpectedly. The warmest moments I had after my husband passed was when one friend showed up with a car full of food and another showed up with a warm plate of cookies. They didn’t call ahead of time to see if it was a good time. They just showed up full of hugs and love and it was exactly the right time. Sure my eyes may have been red from crying, but they understood.
3. Come over and sit for awhile. During my husband’s illness and in the three weeks since he passed, I can’t think of any time when I didn’t want someone to visit. Although I did have some family around, having another friend just sit and talk and even laugh with me took the edge off of things. It feels good to just talk about anything at all and it lets us know that we can feel normal again, if even for a little while.
4. Social media support is more helpful than you may think. Just knowing that friends were around me virtually was a huge comfort. So if you have a friend who’s posted about illness or loss, let them know you’re there even if you’re 1,000 miles or another continent away. Virtual prayers and hugs are just as good as those in person.
5. Texting is okay. I’ve gotten great comfort from friends who sent even just a short text just to check in or send a hug. Again, just knowing people are around to hold you up is tremendous.
6. It’s okay to talk about the loved one who passed. I’ve loved hearing and reading the stories and seeing the pictures people are sending me about how my husband appeared in their lives and what he did for them and how they remember him. Knowing others shared my joy in the fact that he lived is a wonderful way to celebrate his life. If you don’t know what to say, just give a hug.
7. Make a donation. Although the family may not ask for funds or you may think their financial situation is stable, know that there are huge expenses they are experiencing at this time as a result of medical bills, loss of income, funeral expenses, and more. Large or small donations can help ease a lot of the stress on the family while they try to get back on their feet. In talking with other families who are experiencing long-term illness or the passing of a loved one, the lack of funds and uncertainty about the future are their greatest cause of stress.
8. Evenings are the hardest. That’s the best time to call or connect. When all the activities from the day are over, there is an emptiness that needs to be filled. That’s one of the best times to text, call, or visit.
9. Even if you feel you weren’t “close” to someone who is experiencing a serious illness or loss, your support is still appreciated. More than you know. Reach out.
10. If their loved one has passed, try to understand what they are dealing with. Besides grieving, they are also having to deal with the business of closing out a person’s life--making funeral arrangements, notifying friends and relatives, reporting the death to work and other businesses, closing and transferring accounts, wondering if they should stay in the house or move, and waiting on death certificates before being able to complete pages of paperwork, etc. There are a hundred emotions your friend is experiencing right now—grief, fear, uncertainty, worry, remorse—but know that there are other emotions that you can help them uncover to remind them that life will be a new normal and it will still include laughter, love, friendship, and joy. Offer to make calls, sit in with them on appointments. Just be there for them.
11. And if you’re reading this and realize it’s been some months since you checked in on someone who is ill or has experienced a loss, now’s a perfect time to connect. It’s never too late to let someone know you’re thinking of them.