You weren’t close with Uncle Fred, seeing him only on the holidays or the occasional dinner at your parent’s house. Even though you knew about his heart condition, his death still came as a shock to you. Your natural response to grieve is understandably accompanied by the urge to do something constructive. Since Uncle Fred was a non-immediate family member, you won’t be expected to make any of the arrangements. Still, reaching out to offer help and support would be cathartic.
You would think that, after centuries of dealing with death, there would be a cut-and-dry way to go about it. Unfortunately, there isn’t. Everyone is different and grieves in different ways, and for some reason — even when it’s expected — it takes you off guard. Though you feel helpless and are trying to deal with your own grief, there are things you can do to ease the suffering around you. And that alone can have a therapeutic effect.
Explaining It to the Kids
Whether you tell the children directly or they overhear a conversation, at one point you’re going to have to deal with explaining Uncle Fred’s death to them. Kid’s Health recommends being honest with your children and encouraging them to ask questions. This might be one of the toughest conversations you’ll ever have with them because, in addition to dealing with death on a personal level, you might not feel like you have the answers the kids are looking for.
According to Dr. Bruce Perry of Scholastic.com, you should share some of your feelings about Uncle Fred’s passing to reassure your kids that their own feelings are valid. Your children will likely have questions about what happens after death, so discussing the passing of a family member is also an appropriate time to discuss spiritual beliefs.
Offering Help and Support
When you have to deal with the death of a family member, no matter how close, it’s a contradictory time in your life. The grieving process itself is a personal one, yet death compels you to reach out to others to give and receive support. It’s important even for those who pride themselves on their strength to lean on friends and family when coping with death. When you’re offering support, don’t be overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness.
There are a number of little things you can do such as deliver a homemade meal, offer to run errands, clean the house or simply send a hand-written note to convey your sympathy and concern. If you’d like to send something along with your note, visit a website like FTD for sympathy gift ideas. Prayer plants and different varieties of lilies are always appreciated, but you’ll find other thoughtful items such as food and drink gift boxes, plaques and figurines, as well.
Walking That Fine Line
It can be easy to overstep boundaries in your eagerness to help and offer support. Think things through before speaking or acting to avoid making the situation worse for others. Don’t offer unsolicited opinions or advice. Everyone grieves differently, and the things you may have personally found helpful in the past, such as removing the deceased’s pictures or clothing, might be shocking or painful for those closest to him.
Don’t try to rush the grieving period, either. Whether it’s day one or a year later, it’s never appropriate to advise the grieving to “get over it.” Even telling someone that she’ll get over it eventually offers no comfort because, at the time, it feels like she never will. Ultimately, the best thing you can do is stay in touch and offer to be there if any help is needed, whether it be a shoulder to cry on or a ride to the supermarket.
About the Author: Elizabeth Lambert volunteers with several energy conservation groups and loves to write about green living.