How to Be Helpful When Someone Dies (Besides Bringing Food)

When we hear that someone has died, we think of ways to help and one of those things is to drop off food at the home of the grieving family.

The idea is to nourish the mourners to whom the last thing they are thinking of is food. But also knowing that many people are dropping by and rather than burden the family with the worry of providing refreshments to their guests, to have a quick and easy solution. Casseroles are great and easy to pop in the oven and allow mourners to just help themselves. But there are also other alternatives to bringing food.


When a close friend died we flocked to the home with our casseroles, packages of rolls and loaves of bread. But one friend came with something totally unexpected. And brilliant.

She brought bags of bathroom paper and facial tissue. Since there would be more traffic through the home than usual, it stands to reason that the bathroom would be used more. And of course, there would be crying, so the tissue would certainly come in handy. And yet these are things I had never even considered before. Needless to say, they have become my go-to of things to bring to a bereaved household. In keeping with the paper theme, I also bring paper plates (compostable)  and napkins so that clean up is never a concern.


With this increase in visitors in mind, “putting the kettle on” is a natural response so it is also a good plan to bring supplies for coffee and tea drinkers. Make up a basket with tea bags, ground coffee (or instant if there is no coffee maker) milk, cream and sweetener.


Turning to friends who experienced the loss of a loved one in the past couple of years, I asked what they found most helpful. One of the common comments was based around tasks. One friend, whose father had died during the winter was grateful to neighbours who showed up to shovel sidewalks, steps and driveways. Another spoke of a family friend who offered to entertain small children. Although it is good to have kids around and part of the discussion involving death, the mood can get quite heavy so giving them a distraction and a change of environment for a while can be a huge help. This also extends to the animals of the home, particularly ones that need to be walked.


Another friend said she so appreciated someone who arranged a “task schedule”. It also included a place for meal/food offerings, so that there wasn’t a surplus of the same dishes. Another column listed tasks that had to be done, so people signed up and took care of things and those grieving did not have to give anything a thought except dealing with their loss. Having one person as the contact keeps the family separate from having to answer questions or make decisions about matters that aren’t related to the death.


One important thing that almost everyone I spoke with stressed is this: don’t leave suggestions open-ended. If you tell a grieving person that you’re there for them and if they need something to let you know, they won’t. Make a definite plan of action. Tell them that you are going to come by and walk the dog, or shovel the driveway at a specific time. The less details they have to deal with, the better. And that’s a gift in itself.


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