We seem to have had a lot of death in my family in the last few months. First my Grandmother, who was 94, and now my Mother In Law, who was 91. They both died relatively quickly after deciding that their times had come and they were ready to go, so that was good in the grand scheme of things.
What isn't so good is the fact that old ways of handling the aftermath of a death don't seem to go along with modern life. I noticed this a little after my mother died about 5 years ago, but it's really hit home this past week.
In the past there was usually a family member who didn't work outside the home (probably a woman, "lucky" us) who was able to handle funeral arrangements, people dropping by, and multiple phone calls from friends and family. It's a time-consuming task, and it's draining.
These days it's more likely that the people who are handling the details are also handling the details of their own lives, including jobs that don't stop because someone dies.
That means that everything pertaining to the funeral and the death has to be handled after work, on days off, or on your lunch hour. This doesn't leave a lot of time to do anything else, especially if you're also dealing with the surviving spouse of the deceased, something that's more likely as our parents get older and need more help.
This gets tiring, as I've seen firsthand. So here's a list of helpful hints in case you know someone who dies and you want to be of help to the family.
1. Don't call and expect the family to be able to talk to you for an hour about your memories of the deceased. Make a short call during the day and leave a message offering help, then follow through if they need help with anything. The focus should not be on yourself.
2. Don't show up unannounced and expect to stay for hours chatting. And please don't come over, act dramatically exhausted from the grief of being there, and try to take a nap on the family's couch. Yes, that did happen.
3. Don't call after 7pm. Email, leave a short message, or send a sympathy card instead.
4. Don't ask the family to go over the details of the deceased's final moments. They've probably had to do this repeatedly and it's just draining.
5. Please don't make this about yourself. It seems to me that people want to feel involved, so they lose their ability to see when they're overstepping. Just keep it short and focus on the family, not on your need to be a "part of the action."
Have you had experience with this kind of situation? Was your experience different? Would you actually enjoy talking to people for hours on end about a relative's death? Add a comment below, or if you have a tip for things that people could do to help after a death add that, too.
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