Friends ask what they can do for me . . .

Dear Dr. Leary,

My daughter died four months ago and my world is still reeling. I feel out of control and out of touch. Friends keep asking me what they can do for me, and I don’t know what to tell them. Can you help me put what I need into words for them?
A Mother without Words

Dear Mother,

There is comfort in the compassion and good intentions of others but when we are exhausted by grief, we have little capacity to think for others or advocate for ourselves. We can find what we need when we identify our feelings. You may have never had such a loss before. You may be feeling numb, exhausted, and unable to think. You may be at a loss for words and unsure if anything would help. These are normal and acceptable responses to the unexpected and sudden death of your daughter.

Friends want to help but may not know what is helpful. Many are uncomfortable and unprepared for grief, and either stay away, say and do things that don’t help, or act in ways that are not helpful to the people they care about. The following support in the form of requests has helped others:

  • “Please be with me, even when there is nothing to do, or when I have nothing to say. Sometimes I just need to be with someone in silence.”
  • “Please listen to me. Let me tell my story as many times as I need without interrupting or reminding me that I’ve told it before.”
  • “Please remember my loved one by name and with specific stories.”
  • “Please allow me all my feelings, whether they are comfortable or understandable to you.”
  • “Please ask me what I need instead of assuming.”
  • “Please do what you say you will do for me.”
  • “Please give me time to grieve in my own way, and at my own pace.”
  • “Please stay with me and my grief on holidays, anniversaries, and when my grief surprises me years later.”

Any one of these acts of kindness can make a difference. Please use these as conversation starters, or as a response, when friends ask you what they can do for you. Very few of us know what the death of a loved one means to us, and what we need, until it happens to us. You can help them to understand and to give you what you need.

Blessings, Lani

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