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Dos and Don’ts to Help a Grieving Person

When someone (and by someone I mean me) is grieving there are certain things that can help – and other things that don’t help at all. This grief thing is a new experience for me (oh, and how it SUCKS!!!!), and knowing that many other people may too at some point suffer such a tragic loss — like losing their 43-year-old husband without warning — I thought a list of Dos and Don’ts When Helping a Grieving Person (GP) would be useful. This is based on real things people have said to me and/or done over the past four weeks — some excellent, some worthy of a David Letterman list.

1. Don’t say to the GP, “Well, you were getting a divorce anyway, so I don’t know why you’re so broken up.”
2. Don’t say, “The timing of his death was good. If it had been in October it would have interfered with our big party.”
3. Don’t say, “I lost my mother/husband/dog last year and, let me tell you, it’s only going to get harder.”
4. Don’t hesitate to call, even if you think the GP is overwhelmed. The GP will remember that you reached out, even if she couldn’t take the call at the time.
5. Don’t treat the GP as if they are on Suicide Watch. A GP needs to be alone for more than five minutes to go to the bathroom, have a good hard cry, or both.
6. Don’t force the GP to take sleeping pills. If the GP wants to stay awake all night hoping for a visit from her dead husband, let her!
7. Don’t say, “I don’t believe in an afterlife. When he’s dead, he’s dead.” That’s not helpful!

1. Do get on a plane and fly to the funeral even if the GP says you don’t need to come. Bonus points for arriving before the GP and meeting her at the gate.
2. Do make jokes – like Nan who, when we used Marcus’ credit card to pay for his funeral reception, told the restaurant manager who insisted Marcus sign the receipt, “Oh, he’ll be there, he just can’t sign.” It was very funny at the time.
3. Do drop off your adorable ten-week-old puppy and have the GP dog sit for a day. The smell of puppy breath alone will do wonders to ease the grief.
4. Do invite the GP (upon the GP’s return home from the funerals) over for dinner two nights in a row, and BAKE THEM A PIE! (Thank you, Mimi. Your Key Lime Pie was delicious.)
5. Do keep calling and emailing and sending cards to the GP, as point #3 above is indeed correct – it only gets harder.
6. Do stop by unannounced and suggest going for a walk at sunset. Even if the GP doesn’t change out of her pajamas, the walk is slow, and no one talks, it’s a baby step in a healthy direction.
7. Do remind the GP about some of the less positive points of the lost loved one so the GP doesn’t try to canonize them and turn them into a saint.
8. Do have supplies ready at hand: Kleenex, chicken soup, and water are key.