Death is so difficult to understand. You go your whole life with your parents by your side, encouraging you and loving you, and then one day all of that just disappears. It’s a gaping feeling that can’t be described, fixed, or mended. The loss doesn’t go away, it just becomes a little easier to live with. Whether you’ve lost a parent or not, here are some tips on what to do when a friend’s parent dies.
Just Do Something
When you friend first loses her parent, she is going to be experiencing devastation, heartbreak, and loss. The last thing she is going to ask you to do is make her kids lunch, help her fold laundry, or walk the dog while she runs errands for the funeral. Take initiative. Don’t ask, don’t offer, just do. Is the kitchen a mess? Clean it. Are the kids out of clean underwear? Throw a load in. Does the recycling bin need to be put out? Do it. These little chores make your friend’s life the tiniest bit easier, but it’s still something and she will forever be grateful that you took on responsibility without being asked.
The best thing you can ever do for your friend is cook, clean the bathroom, or pick up the kids from school, all behind-the-scenes responsibilities. You don’t have to give her a therapy session, just be her little helper while she goes through this brand new challenge.
Let Her Grieve Her Way
We’re quick to judge how someone is handling pain, even when we haven’t been in their shoes. Take a step back, give her room to grieve the way she naturally wants to, and just listen. We all grieve in different ways. We can’t be certain of what to say to someone who lost their dad, so let her do things her way, without judgment. Her way of grieving is likely different than your way, so support her, uplift her, and never criticize her.
Drop By With Food
Your friend will receive an overabundance of food at the beginning of her parent’s death. It’s everyone’s natural response when something good or bad happens – send over a tray of lasagna. Once a few weeks go by, and she hasn’t had the energy to run to the grocery store, drop by with a home cooked meal for the whole family. Providing food for your friend and her family is not an open invitation to join them for dinner. This simply means drop by with food for the family and then just leave. Don’t make her feel like she needs to entertain you or like she needs to convince you she’s “fine”. The simple act of providing for her and her family during a crisis is plenty.
Be a Gatekeeper
The sudden attention and support from what seems like hundreds of people can be very overwhelming for someone who just lost their parent. The influx of support is appreciated and very kind but, can put what’s supposed to be a private and personal grieving time, on hold. Try being your friend’s gatekeeper. Organize, correlate, and respond to well-wishers for her. Be her eyes and ears and help her to focus on herself and her family, not entertaining house guests.
Sometimes you don’t know what to say to someone who lost their mother, and that’s perfectly fine. Talking is not going to fix it, anyway. Now listening to her memories of her mother or feelings of confusion, that helps. It doesn’t fix the fact that she lost her mom but, it provides a personal place to find some relief. Listening goes a long way and giving advice or comfort is not always necessary. Just being there for her is comforting enough.
The classic gift for a friend whose parent has passed is flowers and a card. Flowers are gorgeous and thoughtful, but they don’t ease the pain of the situation. Instead of gifting flowers, donate to a charity or foundation that means a lot to our friend and her parent. For instance, a gift for someone whose mother died of breast cancer, donate to the Breast Cancer Foundation in her honor. It doesn’t mend the hurt, but it’s much more intimate and personal.
Death is never easy. Losing someone is life-altering. Be there for your friend, in all the little ways, and in all the big ways. If she wants to stay home and binge watch Sex In the City while drinking organic wine and not talk about her loss at all, do it. Once she is able to see how much you have helped, she will be forever grateful. There is no magic solution on what to do when a friend’s parent dies but, these tips will be a great starting point. For more advice on being there for your friend, Ask Ali or visit our lifestyle blog.