In the past week, I have gotten that facebook message or email letting me know that a friend’s parent has passed away. After the initial shock and moment of “Oh no, I wish I could be there!” – I step back and think about what I actually can do. But, what should we do in these situations? Here is how I respond to this type of news. Again, as always, with grieving, there is no right way, just a variety of methods and choices in how you act, support someone, and respond. These thoughts are just one approach.
Whenever I receive the news that someone close to a friend has passed away, I follow a couple of steps. From my own experience and watching those around me begin the grieving process, it is important that people know that you know what has happened and that you care. I first take a few minutes to gather myself (and make sure I am in an okay mental place) and then I reach out. The method that I choose to reach out varies based on how well I know the person. If they are a close friend – then I will call. At first, the idea of calling may sound scary (Yes, it is nerve racking to call someone who is having a hard time!), but once your friend answers the phone – it is the same person, just a sadder version. You will be able to let them know that you are there for them if they want to call, text, email, or reach out in any other way. This simple phone call lets them know that you are thinking about them, willing to reach out, and available if they want to contact you. Take the pressure off yourself “to make things better” – and call a friend you have had some great times with and tell them you care about them.
Secondly, people often worry about “interrupting” by calling, making the assumption that their friend already has family and friends around them and they are engaging in funeral planning, hosting relatives, etc. While this may be true, it is still important that your friend knows that you care – AND they can always not answer if they are busy. Seeing your missed call is very important. More likely than not, your call may be a distraction from the present difficult situation and may provide a much needed break. Your friend may not call you back, depending on what is going on with the arrangements and family and friends who are able to be there in person. But call in again in a few days to check back. Again, the missed call is important.
After a few phone calls, I will also send a letter or care package. (check back for the next blog post on what to include in a condolence letter) The care package/letter will include something that reminds me of how important their friendship is to me as well as something about their lost one, if possible. For example, a friend of mine lost her mom last year. Her mom had been an avid gardener, so in her care package, I included packets of seeds and asked her if we could plant them together in the spring. A few years ago, a friend lost her father, and I sent her the DVD of Mean Girls and frosting – two very important elements of our friendship. In sending a package or letter, try to include something personal – a memory of the person who has passed away that you share or that your friend has shared with you about their loved one.
What should I do if the person is a friend but not a close friend that I feel comfortable calling?
Many “friends” or “acquaintance friends” in our lives will lose someone close to them. It can be tricky to know what the best response is – because you don’t know the personal THAT well, yet you care about them. In these situations, I will send someone a short email, letting them know that I heard that their loved one passed away and I am thinking about them. I will also follow up with a card. If I have the opportunity to see my friend in person a few weeks or a month later, I will offer to take them to dinner or out to do something fun. In my experience in the process of grieving, it was important to me that people knew and had let me know that they were there for me. So, don’t be nervous to send a quick email, even if you don’t know the person that well.
It is never too late to reach out. But checking in with your friend as soon as you can, whether it is via email or phone is very important.