What Helped You in a Time of Grief?

Tammy Ruiz - What People Did for You


Now that I\’m getting to a more-healed place in my grief journey, I can look back on this year (the anniversary of my husband’s death is this Saturday) with a wider scope and see things clearer than I did at the time. I share this part of the journey with joy and appreciation in my heart.

Grieving people are a tough crowd. We get upset easily, we seem to hate almost everything people say to us, we see the world so differently than those around us that it sometimes leaves little room for shared experience.

I have written here and on my blog about mistakes people make and ill-advised things that people say but what about the good stuff? What about the totally amazing, funny, considerate, dear things that people come up with when those they love are hurting?

Here I offer examples from my own experience, but I invite you to share in comments about wonderful things others did for you (or someone you love) in times of grief and suffering.

On the day my husband died suddenly in our home, the first act if kindness I benefited from was my daughter’s best friend’s parents coming to the house to tend her needs while I dealt with the ambulance/police/funeral people coming into our home. It was all so traumatizing for everyone and I had no emotional or physical capacity to nurture or help her in the middle of that storm of events. Their presence probably minimized suffering that might have taken years to recover from.

The tradition of giving food to grievers was helpful as I really hate cooking even in my very best moment, so the food brought by the first person to arrive (one of my Perinatal Hospice moms) was very welcome.

The second person to arrive (also a Perinatal Hospice mom) brought a big box of Benadryl and 4 boxes of Kleenex. She then followed my request to go into Dave’s office (me doing that task which would have given me a breakdown at that very moment) to find important documents we needed.

I could only eat pudding for 4 days and 3 of the moms I had cared for in the past supplied me with pudding. To say that I love these women would be quite an understatement.

Another friend arrived with a carload of groceries, food that fed my family for days. She got basic staples and wonderful treats. I was using the butter weeks later and thinking of her and her amazing kindness.

In our tradition, prayers for the newly deceased and their family are valued over everything. Knowing that there were people out there keeping me, my kids, Dave and his extended family in prayer was like an ever present security blanket. Receiving cards that informed of Masses being offered in his honor were very comforting. I was really surprised how comforting it was to receive sympathy cards, especially very soon after the death. The most helpful cards were the ones where the sender expressed that he or she had heard the news and simply shared that it was important.

Lawn-mowings were a welcome kindness, especially because my husband had done that task right up to his death.

A woman I had never met (but we have many mutual friends) came by with a dinner even though she had to juggle her 6 kids to cook it and drive it across town. That was sacrificial kindness.

This is very unusual and never to be expected, but it was kind, helpful and really nice. A childhood friend of my late husband\’s, a very successful man and his wife, bought us the six plane tickets we all needed to fly from the East Coast to Montana to bury Dave. They additionally gave us other funds via an account set up by a banker friend. We aren’t poor and there was life insurance but I was a single mom with 5 dependents (at the time) and my job only offers me part-time hours, so it was very appreciated.

My husbands cousin and his wife were a couple I had never met before. They are faithful Catholics who opened their home to us when we traveled to Montana for the burial, literally putting a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. They led the Rosary at the Church and offered much spiritual guidance and support during such a hard time, even when it meant listening to me cry out in anguish until the wee hours of the morning.

Some friends knew that my secondary fridge was broken and were mindful that we would receive a lot of food upon return from the burial trip. They pitched in and bought me a new one that was delivered while I was gone; it was plugged-in and cold when I got back to my house.

The image from our local funeral that will stick in my mind forever is one of two friends dumpster diving for my daughters retainers. Someone had thrown them away by accident (they were on a plate that wasn’t supposed to be trashed) and by the time we missed them the trash was in a dumpster. My friends were so sensitive to meeting our needs (whatever they were) that their fancy-lady-selves just dove right in. Wouldn’t that make you feel loved?

Some of the kindnesses were faith-based, some were very practical, some cost a lot of money, some cost none, some required intense interaction in the midst of pain and suffering, some were quiet and hidden but each was done with a servant\’s heart and really ministered to me in a time of need.

Each of us is different and God gives us different skills. I joke with people that I won’t cook for them when they are in crisis because I like them (I will find another way to serve). Don’t judge your ability or resources against others. Each kindness had its special place and I loved and appreciated each one.

Please share the kindest thing done for you in your grief.

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10 thoughts on “What Helped You in a Time of Grief?”

  1. I was the primary care-giver for my mother who was sick for 2 years. She died just over 6 months ago. People sent flowers, cards, and food– all of which were greatly appreciated. One person gave my father and me a few gift cards from popular restaurants that we could use when we wanted to get out of the house. I think I appreciated that as much as I did the home-cooked meals! It was ( and is) painful to be in the kitchen where my mother spent so much time. Eating out gave us a reprieve from being immersed in the room that now felt so empty without her in it. Before being the recipient of this gift, I would have thought such a deed was rather a detached or ‘cold’ offering of comfort. I know now that this was a perfect way to express kind regards and sympathy.

    I find myself wishing that we lived in a time when people understood that mourning lasts longer than a few weeks, however. My father seems to have recovered better than me in many ways. (I’m 52 and expected to deal with the loss of a parent with more dignity than I’ve been able to muster.) Anyway, I kind of wish that all the food, cards, etc., were a bit more spread out. The numbness that followed the death has warn off, and it would feel good to have someone reach out. I’m making a mental note to ‘follow up’ on the bereaved months after the death.

    Good article. I’d not read you before, and I’m always glad to find another good writer who can have impact on us!

  2. Tammy, I’ll share some with you.

    It has been over 5 years now that my wife of 36 years died suddenly at home. After this amount of time vivid memories still exist of people who involved themselves in this event. I am so self-sufficient that no one needed to cook for me or do any other chores around the house.

    My nearest relative, a cousin, as soon as I called to notify that part of my family, jumped in his car and drove 150 miles to stay with me throughout the ordeal and help handling the many decisions and duties death brings on. My children arrived by plane and stayed long enough to get me to the point where I could handle being alone. They stayed available by phone. One day as a familiar song was played in a public building the feeling it evoked brought on such a sudden rush of grief that I found myself sitting on a bench outside in tears. With a cell phone handy I could connect immediately with my daughter.

    A neighbor friend offered his house for the reception after her memorial service in order to relieve me of any trouble, as we lived alone and my house is small.

    A Catholic priest arrived at our house when I requested specifically a Catholic of the Deputy Sheriff who gently helped me not only with CPR but the moment. I was not Catholic, but the priest not only helped me through that night, he presided over the memorial service in a Catholic church attended by Protestants (I think only 2 Catholics). This helped my progression towards the Church.

    Friends and relatives were supportive, but, please don’t tell me that “She is in a better place.” A better place would have been with me.

  3. My husband and I were in a different situation. After the funeral of our full term stillborn son everyone disappeared nor would bring it up which made us feel in a way that they did not accept he existed. However I am married to an amazing man and we both feel consoled by heaven.

  4. I am disappointed that people aren’t choosing to share stories…I hope in time people chime in…in the mean time I have to add another story…

    About 3 months after his death, I was facing 2 tasks that were overwhelming to me because they were things he would have done and his absence was so palpable as I faced them alone; clearing leaves from the yard and putting up outside Christmas decorations. I decided to share my challenge with some co workers and they all arrived one Saturday morning to help. Vickie from the Neonatal ICU turned out to be a master at Christmas decorating. Amy was the pied-piper of the group and she kept everyone organized, I was standing next to her as an SUV drove up…I told her I didn’t recognize the people getting out and she said “Remember when we called and asked you to come to the adult ICU to help a lady whose baby died in the crash that hurt her? well the lady in the SUV was the mom’s nurse, she never forgot you.” It was all like a big hug with a warm blanket.

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  6. Grief is a complex phenomenon. 15 years ago my 12 year old son experienced a non-fatal drowning where he was submerged under water at a summer camp for 25 minutes. As a result he is non-verbal, can’t move a muscle except his head and eyes, is totally spastic, many contractures and severe scoliosis. This is grief, but more so “chronic sorrow”.

    Chronic sorrow ” is a set of pervasive, profound, continuing, and recurring grief responses resulting from a significant loss or absence of oneself (self-loss) or another living person (other loss) to whom there is a deep attachment. The way in which the loss is perceived determines the existence of chronic sorrow…a painful discrepancy between what is perceived as reality and what continues to be dreamed of. The loss is ongoing since the source of the loss continues to be present. The loss is a living loss.” p.26 Chronic Sorrow, Susan Roos

    “While chronic sorrow is conceptualized as being normal and understandable, there are no formal and customary social supports and expectations, rituals or recognitions of the catastrophic loss, since the person who is the source of the loss continues to live. Adaptations are usually drastic and disorienting. Simultaneously and absurdly, the person who is the source of the sorrow may at times be socially unrecognized, as if he or she does not exist. If there is no existence, there is no loss; therefore the grief is unacknowledged and unaddressed by society.” p. 29 Chronic Sorrow, Susan Roos

    People did all the things mentioned in your article and more for the first year. They promised, in waterfalls of tears, that they would be there for the long run. Well, after year one they ALL left, even family. Adam is still with us and my and I care for him daily. Everyone, including family, have disappeared. Adam’s clairvoyant told us many years ago that Adam communicated to her, ” Love means being there, even when you don’t have to….” That would be the greatest gift, the kindest act, just being there……that is the true nature of “chronic sorrow.” Grief has its ceremonies, chronic sorrow does not.

    1. Mr Dzialo,
      Im glad that I posted something that allowed you the opportunity to discuss this important topic. You are right…some losses have more ritual and custom associated with them and others can leave us abandoned. The idea of chronic sorrow was brought up by a coworker with a disabled adult child also and I was glad to be a person she felt safe telling about her experience.

      I would bet that there are people around us with chronic sorrows that dont feel safe sharing their difficulties with others for various reasons. I also believe that it is possible to have chronic sorrow and subsequent grief that compound one another.

      Blessings to you.

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