By Colleen A. Rickenbacher
Unfortunately death impacts us all and everyone has his or her own
way of handling the loss of a loved one. At the same time, it can be
hard for people to know what to do to comfort a family member,
friend or a co-worker who has experienced a loss. People generally
send a sympathy card or flowers to a funeral but others feel
uncomfortable seeing this person and knowing what to say or do.
unexpectedly lost her husband, after he suffered a heart attack. He
left behind his wife of 27 years and three grown children. As a
colleague, friend or neighbor, what can you do in this situation to
express your own grief and sympathy? How do you help Susan and her
family? If you were in the same situation, what would you do?
Depending on your relationship with the family, at the very
least, you should send a sympathy card as soon as possible.
Write a brief note telling what Sam meant to you. A short
personal remembrance, or even a funny story or a time together
will help the family treasure your friendship and possibly even
help them smile during this difficult situation. A short note of
“my thoughts and prayers are with you and the family” is
appreciated, if your relationship to the family was more formal.
Avoid just signing your name.
Identify yourself on the card and always include a legible
return address. This will help if the family would like to send
you a thank you card or note. Susan will appreciate your card
but may have no idea who you are or what your relationship is to
Sam or the family.
if time has passed and you are just hearing of the passing of
Sam, you should still contact the family or send a card. If more
than four to six months have passed, send a “thinking of you”
card instead of a sympathy card.
Flowers, Food and Gifts:
Flowers: Do you send them, if so, what kind? Are there any
alternatives? Flowers are beautiful but can also be very sad.
Fresh flowers die within three to seven days and a lot of people
relate those back to the death of their loved one. Also, they
need to tend to them or they will die even sooner. Consider
potted plants instead. Potted plants can live a much longer life
and provide a good memory to the recipient.
are also blankets or tapestries available in some areas, with
artwork of an angel or religious scene. These make not only
beautiful presents, but can be displayed at the funeral home or
church on an easel, to be taken home by the family later. These
throws can serve as a beautiful reminder of the loved one. Check
with your florist for these blankets or tapestries.
Masses or flowers for the church, money given to the church or
other organizations or charities, and money given to the family
is always appreciated and easy to do. The funeral home is always
a good starting point for direction on what the family might
like or need. They are generally informed of all of the family’s
wishes. Ask the director for help, as this makes it easier and
less stressful on the family to have to explain or provide the
office is at a loss and would like to either make a donation or
send flowers. As quickly as possible determine if there is a
charitable organization, memorable fund or college fund for the
two children. This information could appear in the daily
newspaper or you can contact the funeral home.
for the family: Yes, but spread it out. Too many times the
family receives so much food initially that they have to give it
away or throw it away. Consider providing food that they can
freeze or provide them with dinner at a later point. Usually as
a bit of time passes, it is easier for the family to talk with
you and even remember times you spent together.
not rush the family. If they don’t want to change their
voicemail that still has Sam leaving the message, let them
decide when they are ready. If they don’t want to come to dinner
with you, then just wait. There does reach a time they do need
to start moving on with their life, but initially it is best to
give them their space. If they need or want you, they will call.
Periodic checking with them to come by for a visit or offering
to help is great, but don’t take it personally if they refuse.
Everyone has their own time and way of handling their loss.
a Personal Loss
Consult your funeral home director for help and assistance. The
shock of your loss may make it difficult, to say the least, when
it comes to organizing and preparing for this situation. The
funeral home will be able to help you with any of your immediate
and ongoing concerns.
you are trying to establish charitable funds or a trust fund,
they can easily be created by calling your bank or the
charitable recipient (American Heart Association, Ronald
McDonald House, etc.). Ask the organization for immediate
notification of the person/company and their donation. This will
enable you to send a thank you note to them as soon as possible.
Your funeral home director can also be of assistance in setting
up these funds. Once the funds are established, the funeral home
can place cards next to the sign-in book.
need to write thank you notes may be the last thing on your mind
after a loss. It can be a daunting task, but also a therapeutic
one. Thank you notes should be sent for all items that money was
spent by the sender, including any monetary contributions or
donations, charitable gifts, flowers, masses, church services or
meals. You should try and respond as quickly as you are able and
within a three-month period.
you cards can be obtained from the funeral home and generally
include a nicely printed message inside. These are great, but
always add a handwritten note in addition to the pre-printed
message. Then sign your name and reference from the “Family of
Sam Jones.” Your note could be just to thank them for the gift
and you know how much they enjoyed Sam or how he enjoyed them.
you want to can send thank you notes to everyone who attended
the funeral, viewing or sent you a card, you can but are not
obligated to do so. At times this becomes impossible due to the
number of people who attended the services and also not actually
knowing the people in attendance or their addresses.
you are ready to return to your work and people ask how you are
doing you can share as little or as much as you like. Know your
tolerance level and how far you can go without emotion taking
over your conversation. You can even tell them that you would
rather wait a little longer. They will understand.
confuse concern with being nosy. Some people truly want to help
and the only way they know is to call, e-mail or send you notes.
Appreciate their gestures.
passing of a loved one affects everyone differently. Some people
recover quickly and have a way of handling their loss. Others may
never completely recover. But no matter the circumstances, provide
the grieving family with as much kindness, sympathy and fond
memories as possible.
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Colleen A. Rickenbacher.
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