A month ago my mom passed away. I have learned far more than I wanted to about life and death over the last 15 months: how to work with attorneys, accountants, funeral directors, insurance companies, healthcare professionals, and the like.
One thing I know for sure is that we are all uncomfortable when it comes to expressing condolences; in large part that is because reacting to someone else’s loss means remembering those we’ve loved and lost and those who are yet to come. If we don’t talk about it, maybe it won’t happen. Unfortunately that’s not the way it works, folks.
Since many of us are a bit slack-jawed when it comes to offering our sympathies, I thought I might share a few ideas. My friends and extended family have been amazing; they thought of things to do to support me before I even knew I needed them. They came up with some especially thoughtful, kind, and out-of-the-box ways to pay tribute to my parents and demonstrate how me how much they love me. Here are just a few of them… I would have to write a book if I included them all:
Send flowers. Okay, I know there is nothing unique about this suggestion, but a floral delivery can go somewhere other than the memorial service. Consider sending a meaningful bouquet directly to one of the mourners instead. I received several bouquets within days of the passing of my parents. Sending flowers doesn’t have to break the bank either. If you have a special group of friends such as a book club, small group, or bowling team, chip in on a bouquet together. Instead of cut flowers that quickly died, consider sent the family a plant or tree. An evergreen will remind the family of God’s promise of eternal life.
Send a memorial. A little bit can go a long way at a charity. If you are interested in making a memorial donation in lieu of flowers, you may do so in several ways. Obituaries often contain information on which organizations are preferred, say the Kidney Foundation or the Alzheimer’s Association. You can send a check directly to them, click online, or send a check to the family. (It is easier if you make out the check directly to the family.) However you choose, be sure to make note that your gift is in honor of a particular individual; the family will receive notification of your gift.
Deliver communion. I’ll never forget this thoughtful gift as long as I live. A day or two after my father died, my friend Pam brought over a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread so we could have family communion together. She touched me to the core.
Bring food. Yes, the covered dish is alive and well. Delivering food could mean a cream of mushroom something, of course, but it could be as simple as some rolls, juice, coffee and the fixings, a dessert, or an appetizer of some kind. Another idea is to mail a gift certificate to a local restaurant so the family can get a pizza or some stir fry.
Give a unique gift. My friend Jenny is very creative and thoughtful. When my dad passed, she brought over a beautiful LED eternity lantern. It puts off a soft glow that reminds me of what it must have been like to do homework back in his day. Then a couple weeks ago she gave me a solar-powered cross in honor of my mom’s passing. We don’t have any bushes at this time of year, so we proudly stuck it in a snow bank for all to see. My friend Karen created a pendant with my dad’s photo superimposed on it. How cool is that? My friend Amy gave me a bookmark that included a flattened penny with a heart cut out. I have it on my key chain.
Wind Chimes. My buddies Leanne and Bev had wind chimes delivered tuned to the song “Amazing Grace.” The windcatcher is engraved with the following inscription: “Walter ‘Bud’ Hammond 1931-2011 His charming ways and smiling face are a pleasure to recall. He had a kindly word for each and died beloved by all.” Every time I go out on the deck I say hi to Daddy.
Send a card. If you’re like me, the bulk of your snail mail is comprised of bills and junk mail. Receiving a personalized paper greeting card that someone selected just for you is very special. If you have one, share a memory of the departed along with your words of condolences.
Now that I have suggested all these monetary gifts, I want to emphasize that the most important thing you can give a grieving friend is your presence. Nothing is more meaningful that looking out at a congregation of mourners and seeing friendly faces. A gift of time is priceless. If you can’t be there in person, please make a phone call rather than sending a text or email message – anyone can do that. If you are tongue-tied, remember that all you need to say is “I’m so terribly sorry.”
We are all on this journey together. It’s reacting to life-changing moments such as the loss of a loved one that truly set friendships apart. Please share any ideas you have – heaven knows we could all use them!
Until next time,
When someone close to me loses a loved one, I go onto my outlook calendar close to the one year anniversary of their death and make a note of it. When that anniversary approaches I send a card letting them know that I’m thinking about them. They are usually shocked that I remembered and are very touched by it. It lets them know that their loved one has not been forgotten by people outside of their family.