I think one of the hardest things for most of us to do is know what to say or what to do during a difficult time of grief. Just a week before my dad has his stroke, a good friend of ours that was a singer in the group my husband plays in, passed away from an aneurysm in his heart that burst. We attended visitation and I can remember when it was our turn to talk to his wife and daughter that I almost said, "I'm so sorry for your loss, I don't think I could handle losing my dad". Thankfully I have a shut-off valve that works really well and I did not say that because as soon as I thought it, I also thought . . .I bet his children didn't think they could handle it either and don't appreciate me saying it!
After losing my dad, I learned a few things. One, there are some super thoughtful, caring people who know exactly what to do and say. Two, there are people who say some awful things and really don't mean it . .. they just don't know what to say and things just spill out. Guess what . . that's ok.
1) One of the greatest things that people did for us at the hospital was bring food. For real. We were in a crisis room with so much going on that trying to remember to eat was not top on the list. Friends and family brought food. One lady from my parents church arrived with a big bag full of snacks/breakfast foods. Fruit, breakfast bars, muffins, and more. That lasted us for days and was perfect. Others would call and say, "I'm bringing dinner" and would arrive with subs, pizza, chicken dinner and more. My cousin stopped by and said, "I'm on my way home but first I want to bring in some pizza - tell me what to get". This happened for days on end and was amazing.
2) Money/Gift cards - When someone has a family member in serious condition in the hospital there are extra costs. Several churches and individuals provided very specific gifts for us. My husband I were given enough money/cards towards gas that I had enough to last through our last trip home after the funeral. Someone else paid for my mom to stay at the hospitality house; someone paid for my oldest brothers flights home from Brazil. Not to mention the gifts to help cover some of the costs of food while at the hospital. Someone else learned that my husband was not going to be able to arrive until the day before the funeral because we couldn't afford for him to take days off work - they provided enough money to cover his week off work so he could be with the family. The truth is, never assume that someone doesn't "need" a little help - when an event like this occurs there are always unplanned expenses from food to gas to lodging to clothing. The day before my dad's funeral I believe that just about every family member was at Target or Walmart looking for a piece of clothing that was forgotten or overlooked in packing. In another instance, a friend handed me a Starbucks gift card as she was leaving the funeral and said, "This is just for you; take some time for yourself and treat yourself to a coffee. You deserve it." Such a thoughtful thing for her to do.
3) Cards. For real. You might think that a simple card means nothing but it really does because it shows that someone is thinking of you during this difficult time.
4) Flowers. It means alot when people send flowers. Yes, often people request "money in place of flowers" but, those that send flowers still, they are still loved.
5) Share memories. One of my favorite things to this day is to hear other people talk about my dad. I love hearing their memories. It shows that he was important to other people too.
6) Meals. The week of the funeral we had family in and out all week. Having meals brought in was amazing. There were planned meals for dinner but there were others. Several ladies stopped with breakfast breads and muffins. Another lady who had signed up for dinner came by at lunch time with sandwiches and salad. We not only had food for main meals, we had leftovers for snacks and lunches without having to plan meals.
7) Offer your home. We had family traveling from, well, around the world, and needed places for them to sleep. If you have an extra room, this is a great way to help. We had several families step up and offer us places in their homes. They also went the extra mile and provided some meals for those staying at their homes as well.
I'm sure there are many more ideas out there that would be just as good or even better but ultimately, all you have to do is a small thing to show you care. Words are not always needed; sometimes a simple action is all that is needed.