Good Grief: How to Be a Blessing in Times of Loss

Death and dying freak me out. Scratch that. Death and dying used to freak me out. About a dozen years ago, I lost five loved ones in less than two years: my father-in-law, my grandmother, my aunt, my father, and Nana, my grandmother-in-law. That season pretty much desensitized my death phobia.

I was sitting in one of their funerals when it occurred to me, weddings and funerals are the new family reunions. With all the busyness of life, it sometimes takes a major family happening to get everyone together.

This weekend our family is hosting one such event. On Saturday afternoon, many will gather in Morgantown for my mother-in-law’s “Celebration of Life.” After she passed away in February, her children decided to defer the memorial service until June. She’d love the idea of us getting together on her 87th birthday weekend.

As I think back to my mother-in-law’s last days, I remember the kindness shown by so many people. Their gestures were so touching, I made a list so I don’t forget, and so I can refer to it when I need to return the favor. This list is not just for those who mourn. It’s also for those who are waiting, as is the case with hospice care.

How to stock a hospital goodie bag.

  • Chocolate: A bag of assorted, snack-sized candy bars soothes the sweet tooth and provides energy and comfort, one tiny bite at a time.
  • Nuts: Kudos to the person who gave us a number of nut items: single-serving pouches, cans of cashews, jars of peanuts. Nuts are perfect for the low-carb crowd, aka me.
  • Produce: Because produce provides a welcome break from grain-based snacks, we greatly appreciated the clementines and apples a friend brought to my mother-in-law’s hospital room. There was a vegetable tray as well. Each night, the hospital staff would tuck anything perishable into their refrigerator to keep it fresh.
  • Granola Bars: Granola bars are a welcome addition, especially ones that are protein-dense and/or high in fiber.
  • Water: A friend of ours dropped off a large quantity of medium-sized bottles of water, a healthy alternative to highly-sweet and/or caffeinated beverages.
  • When in Morgantown: The same gal who gave the water also brought a Morgantown mainstay: pepperoni rolls. These were a fantastic addition to our snack stockpile. Not only are they yummy, pepperoni rolls provide protein. And they keep for a while. Not that these did.

Other Considerations

A nice touch: I loved that someone brought in a bouquet of flowers. A spot of color in an all-white room can be a real mood-lifter.

Visiting Hours: My mother-in-law had lots of visitors in the hospital. Even though we were glad to see them,  a few overstayed their welcome. If you are not family, consider staying only 20-40 minutes. Keep in mind these are the family’s last days and hours with their loved ones.

The Power of Prayer: At the hospital, a number of folks, including priests and pastors, prayed with us. Many others texted or emailed they were praying for our mother and family. When you hear that enough, you start to feel it—a warm blanket of comfort all around you.

On the Homefront: Sooner or later family members will go back to the house and when they do, they will want “real” food. Entrées or homemade cookies will be much appreciated whether they are eaten right away or frozen for a later date. A salad with a bottle of dressing is a great idea too. In this age of store-bought/processed foods, nothing says love like, “I made it myself.”

If possible, deliver your offering in a disposable container. That way, there is no dish to wash or return.

It’s in the Mail: Tony Bear says sympathy cards, especially the ones with a personal note, were a great comfort when his mother passed. And man, did he receive a lot! Several were from his officiating friends in the ACC. Call me sexist, but men taking the time to buy, sign, and mail words of sympathy made me a little weepy.

Voice to text: Tony and I both appreciated the texts, calls, and emails we received regarding his mother. No matter how you communicate your care and concern, it’s always welcome.

How can I help? When a friend loses a loved one, offer to help. Chances are, the grieving person may be in a bit of a fog, so provide specific choices: babysitting, lawn care, meal preparation.

It’s a wonderful life. At the hospital, viewing, or funeral, if you know it to be true, tell the family members that their loved one had a wonderful life. Switching the focus from death to life is a good thing.

We also enjoyed when people shared specific memories of Mom. Some made us smile, some made us laugh at loud. All of them let us know we weren’t the only ones who loved her.

Though death itself can be a blessing, grief is rarely easy. But if you make it an opportunity to show love, there’s a possibility it can also be beautiful.

There are so many ways to bless others in their time of grief. Which one(s) works for you?

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