April 12, 2024
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Make it Count: Meaningful Things to do and Say for Someone Grieving

We have all experienced this moment. Someone you know loses a loved one. Attending the funeral and going to the shiva are the expected norm in the Jewish tradition. But we sometimes struggle with what we can both say and do that goes beyond the expected gestures of etiquette that can make a profound difference for the grieving person.

When it comes to things that you can do, the key is to be proactive by anticipating the grieving person’s needs. It requires you to think about subtle ways in which you can let them know that you are thinking about them and their needs and are there to support them. These ideas range from small to large, but their impact will be the same.

Here are some examples:

Send them a hand-written sympathy note. In it share a memory you have of the person who passed, or if you didn’t know them personally, then simply let them know you are thinking of them.

Cooking will be the last thing on their mind. Give them a restaurant gift card to one of their favorite restaurants.

A gift card for a massage or pedicure. Taking a moment for themselves will be hard at first. But as time goes by, and the initial influx of visitors start to lessen, they will find comfort in something that helps them relax. Help them along with a gift card to a spa.

Be creative and make your own vouchers for household chores that they can remit at any time. For example, taking out their garbage or recycling.

Hire a cleaning service to come to their home after the first week of mourning when they have had many people at their home and/or a couple of times after as well.

Set up a neighborhood schedule to shovel the driveway or mow the lawn.

Offer to help with minor household repairs. Or hire someone else’s services to help.

If reading or music is something they enjoy, pick out a selection of books to send to them or send them an iTunes or Amazon gift card.

Think of the little things that the person typically indulgences in (chocolate, baths, crossword puzzles) and send them a little something to let them know you are thinking of them.

What to say to someone who has lost a loved one, beyond the typical condolence messages, is often a challenge. Firstly, it requires you to think about what would be a meaningful sentiment that shows the grieving person that you are truly thinking about them., These moments are inevitably uncomfortable, and ask us to stand beside our friend or family member despite the discomfort and say something that will truly express our support.

Here are some examples:

Talk about the person who passed away, don’t avoid doing this, although you may be uncomfortable at first. Use their name, let your friend or family member know that you think about their loved one and have not forgotten about them.

Don’t ask what you can do to help. Be proactive and be prepared to offer something specific. For example: “I am going to the grocery store. Please give me your list and I’ll pick up your groceries, too.” Or, “I would like to bring you dinner this week.” Or, “I can drive your child to practice this week.”

Remember that you can’t take away their pain so the most important thing you can do is make them feel understood and loved. Saying something like: “While there is nothing I can do to change things, I want you to know that I am here for you and you have my love and support.” This shows them that there is meaning behind your words instead of some of the clicheés that we typically rely on.

Sometimes though, it is not about saying anything. It is about giving them a hug or holding their hand. It is about having the ability to sit with them in silence or just listen. That can be uncomfortable but sometimes it is just what they need.

The most important thing you can do for a grieving person is to stand with them, not apart from them. It can be uncomfortable, but it is the truest form of kindness we can express both through our words and actions.

By Elisa Udaskin


Elisa Udaskin is the founder and CEO of Caring Organizer, LLC (www.caringorganizer.com), a free website with online tools to organize shiva meals and meals for someone who is ill. Udaskin is an active member of the Morristown, New Jersey Jewish community. She can be reached by email at [email protected].

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