Friday, January 27, 2012

What to Say When You Don't Know What to Say

I got a bunch of pamphlets from the funeral home when Zach and I started making arrangements for Peter's funeral. I thought they were all well written and helpful. I thought this one in particular was really good. "What to say when you don't know what to say" is exactly what everyone wants to know at some point in their lives. If you haven't been there yet, you will at some point in time. Even when dealing with something difficult that isn't a death, these guidelines are a great place to start for comforting and helping anyone who is going through a difficult time or trial in their life.

Even before I had read this information I had been thinking about the topic and contemplating what I have learned from this experience. What is the most helpful to someone who is going through a hard time. Here are some of my thoughts on the topic from the loving and generous examples of those around me.

1. Lots of Boxes of LOTION Kleenex

Whether a death in the family, throwing up, or just a sickness with a runny nose, they will always wish they had more lotion Kleenex because if they are crying or having a runny nose for more than one nose wipe, they will be in dire need of lotion Kleenex. Otherwise, after two wipes, their faces and noses will be red, dry, and sore.

You can never have too many boxes of lotion Kleenex.

2. Food

A staple in grief support, food is always welcome, but here are some insights I've gained.

- Space it out.
Most meals are more than enough for one meal, and some can even last up to four days. Instead of bringing meals every day, space them out to every-other day so that their fridge doesn't get filled up with too many leftovers. Not everyone is blessed with a deep-freeze freezer in the garage.

- Bring it two weeks later.
When someone has a new baby, or a surgery, etc. people are usually ready and eager to help out at the beginning. That is helpful. It is also a pleasant surprise and much appreciated respite to have someone bring you a meal a few weeks later, when things have died down but you still haven't fully recovered.

- Gift Cards/basket
If you live far away from the person you wish to comfort, gift cards to local restaurants or a gift basket can show you care and are thinking of them. And who doesn't love getting real mail?

3. Massage

A gift certificate for a massage from a professional masseuse. So needed. A great way to feel like you are actually helping relieve some of the tension from grief and stress. Who doesn't need one?

Probably something they need- but wouldn't ever buy for themselves.

4. Suggestions

When offering to help saying "just let me know if I can ever do anything to help" isn't the most effective. Part of the problem is that the person who needs help isn't always sure what you are able, or comfortable, doing. What they might really need is someone to clean their bathroom, but what you had in mind was more like giving them a ride. Or maybe they need someone to watch their children, but you work during the day when they need the help.

When offering to help, give lots of suggestion of what you are comfortable helping with, that way they know that they can come to you in that circumstance. For most people it is uncomfortable asking others for favors, so it definitely helps to know what the other person will agree to before you ask. Specifics help.

Some examples:
"I would love to help by: ..."
- Coming over and spending the evening with you while your husband is working (or day)
- Taking your child for the day so you can make funeral arrangements (or whatever)
- Giving you a ride to church, the hospital, etc (or your teenager, or kids)
- Having you over for dinner on Wednesday night (be specific)
- Making burial clothes

Nobody wants to ask you to clean their bathroom, but that might be what they really need. Offer anything you are willing, able, and comfortable doing.

5. Offer Again

Another problem with offering help is that the person usually isn't looking for help at the exact instant you offer it. Whether they are just starting to deal with the grief or a tragedy and can't think about it right now, or they just don't need anything right now, or they are a new mother and don't know what they will need because they have never done it before. Offer again.

Make sure they know your offer is sincere by offering multiple times. Sometimes someone would offer to help me with something and I would say that I didn't need it then, only to need it later but didn't want to ask. It's a blessing when the person feels the promptings from the spirit and acts on it, and makes the offer again. It is a lot easier to accept an offer than ask for it.

Something that would be really helpful would be your phone number on a card with a list of things you are ready to do to help. Put it on a sticky note, the back of your business card, or anything handy. That way they will be able to remember who offered what, and how to get a hold of them when they need help.

One thing I noticed since Peter is that my sense of time and my mental faculties were seriously messed up from lack of sleep, stress, and dealing with the situation. Writing things down is very helpful later when trying to remember things.

6. The Written Word

Some of the most touching things we received were handwritten notes, cards, and letters from family and friends. Reading the heartfelt words of those we love mean so much, and it is so nice having them written down so we can re-read them whenever we want to remember and think about Peter.

Share your own grief and happy memories of the person.

7. Pictures

You can't have enough pictures of the one you love, who is now gone. If you have some, make a copy for the family or friends who are grieving.

Peter's burial shoes, made by a dear friend as a favor.


  1. Perfect. This is the best advice ever. I especially love how it is applicable across the board. You both are amazing!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. There were lots of good points I hadn't thought of. I agree 100% about the lotion tissues.

  3. Thank you, Tracy, for sharing this great advice. Whenever I think "oh, it's too late to take a meal over now, it's been two weeks since their need", I remember a time years ago when someone brought me a meal when I least expected it and how grateful I felt for their kindness. It's never too late to care.

    1. You are so right. I think it's a trap we fall into a lot. We wait too long and then think it is too late to help someone. It's never too late to offer! I know it is something that I have been working on myself- to act on thoughts and promptings the first time you think of doing something.

  4. Oh, you are amazing, Tracy! This is wonderful! I remember when my mother passed away and all of the things you wrote about fit perfectly! And, since it's been so long, even when people remember about her passing and just mention it to me in love, like on mother's day, is so special to me that they would remember someone that meant so much to me.
    I still of you guys a lot!


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