One of the things I've heard more times than I can count over the last month is how desperately people want to offer comfort when your family member dies, but how hard defining comfort can be for us. It's awkward when someone dies and hearts are broken and loss is searing. There is no comfort for the awkward. But there is comfort for souls and bodies and minds.
It is the physical, spiritual, emotional comfort that becomes a precious and treasured commodity -even when death has been expected (as was with our case). I've never walked beside a family who's lost someone. Until this point, death has been a stranger to me -with thanks I say that. So, I didn't understand, know, or comprehend the way it's hard to offer comfort and condolences in the awkwardness that is death.
Today I offer you ten ways to offer condolences that are simple, affordable, and deeply meaningful. There's no need to be extravagant or overwhelming; in fact, I encourage you to keep your condolences simple and practical.
1. Write down a heartfelt memory you share with the deceased.
We didn't know so many of the amazing memories other people shared with my dad until after he passed. People felt awkward talking to us about him while he was alive, but sick; so upon his passing we received an outpouring of hilarious and touching memories people had of him. Please share these memories with the family. Extra points if you do it on paper or via email so they can look back on it.
2. Make a thoughtful (SIMPLE) gift.
My mom's best friend made us the mugs in the above picture. She was at church the morning my dad died and the sermon was on peace. She said she wept with joy for all of us and she wanted us to have these mugs as commemorations of the most important morning of our lives. And, it's beloved.
3. Baked goods make everything better.
A dear friend of mine brought by a card and basket for me shortly after my dad died. She wrote "when there aren't words, there are cookies" in the card and forever warmed my heart. Plus, her cookies were phenomenal.
4. Send a link to a song or book or YouTube video or picture that brings up memories.
There's nothing like waking up to an unexpected text that says, "made me think of your dad" and the link to the "I Like Big Butts" music video. But anyone who knew him knew the way he loved to try and rap to that song when karaoke was available. It's so healthy and helpful and important to drudge up the great memories when the loss is fresh.
5. Bring over a meal.
Mourning takes a lot of energy. Tears seem to zap and mental power one might possess, so easing dinner time is so, so helpful. This is often the idea most people jump to and it's perfectly wonderful, BUT lots of food is being brought over so make sure whatever you make is freezer friendly. This ensures that your lasagna can be frozen while the soup the other neighbor dropped off is consumed.
6. If you're not a cook, give a gift card to a restaurant that delivers.
My dad died on December 20th. It was cold, dark and rainy for most of the first month after his passing. This equated to an exorbitant amount of flannel pajama wearing. If we could stay home and enjoy our dinner by the fire, we did. Help your friend out by enabling that homebody feeling. (There's also GubHub and Eat24 and a million other amazing food ordering apps that you can "gift" through!)
7. Remember the whole family.
I received a few condolence cards from my mom's friends. I shouldn't be surprised because her people are amazing people, but it was such a blessing to receive thoughtful condolences from unexpected sources. Your kind words will be a healing balm -I promise.
8. Ask about flowers or donations, then do what they suggest.
My family opted donations to two of the companies that did phenomenal jobs providing care to my dad over the last three years because flowers will die and my dad believed in investing in the lives of others. If you're interested in spending some money to support the family but don't know how to appropriately do so, ask. Families will always have an answer and will be flattered to know you want to support their lost one's memory.
9. Offer practical help.
Mow the lawn, feed the dog, prune the roses, dust the book shelves, water the plants, vacuum the floors.Sometimes the hardest part of life after someone dies is the way things continue and dust settles all over and messes are made and grass grows. Some of the chores of living can feel overwhelming to manage.
10. Send a card that you wrote in.
The most comforting (to me) part of all of this was receiving cards that people went to the store and bought just with me in mind. Some were funny and others were kind, but all of them had words that were tailored just to warm my heart. Your handwriting is like a hug for our eyes, your words are a band-aid on aching souls, so don't hesitate to send something sweet.
My biggest advice is this: when you offer something, do it with a time attached or it'll fall by the wayside. For example: "Amber, I'm going to bring dinner to you on Wednesday night. Should I drop it off before I get my kid from school at 3:00 or after? And is anyone allergic to dairy?"
This way of framing the question with two time options ensures you are still considerate, but also doesn't make me feel like I am going to have to ask you to make me that dinner you offered to make on December 21st when you found out my dad died. Help is always welcome, but it's not always easy to request.
So, now you're prepared to offer condolences. Or at least you have a jumping point.
Questions? Other suggestions?
You know where to leave them.