5 Ways to Care for Someone in the Early Days of Grief

MARCH 13, 2018  /  MAUREEN WITMER  / 

5 Ways to Care for Someone in the Early Days of Grief
A TakeThemAMeal user recently wrote to us that grief is a "strange monster." That really resonated with me, particularly in the way it attacks. Sometimes you see the monster coming in advance, chasing you down, but giving you time to prepare for it as best as you know how. Other times, it sneaks up behind you out of nowhere, suddenly and without warning.
Megan Devine, grief advocate and writer of the blog Refuge in Grief, experienced a sudden, life-changing loss. She writes about the experience from her point of view-
"It's like being in a crowded movie theater. Everyone starts out watching the same picture, exactly the one they bought tickets for, exactly the same one as advertised.
At some point, the screen rips in two, it shatters, and a whole new film begins. This one is surreal and strange, a horror show where there wasn't one before. The characters have changed, the stage set is wrong. There are three moons in the sky, and this wasn't science fiction when it started.
But the worst thing - the worst thing - is not that the movie has changed, but that no one else has noticed that it's changed. They are all still watching as though nothing has happened. No one seems to notice that the screen has split and morphed, that everything is different now.
If you make a sound, if you say 'Wait. WAIT - this is all wrong now!" They pat your arm and whisper, "Shh. It's totally fine. It's just a movie. It'll work out fine. What a great story, and pass the popcorn please.'
You know that what they're watching isn't real. It's a play of light and shadow that can stop at any time, mid-story, mid-sentence, mid-life. But until they see the screen you see, they will never understand."
Although most of us will never exactly understand what a friend is experiencing when overwhelming grief approaches swiftly, we all know the strong desire to do something, anything, to help. Here are 5 practical ways to care for someone in those early hours and days after devastating loss.
1. Don't say "let me know if you need anything." Someone whose life was just turned upside down doesn't know what they need right now. Instead, think about their needs and meet them. For instance, drop off bagels and cream cheese and text your friend that breakfast is on her doorstep. Or set up a meal schedule. Your friend is making so many decisions and you can greatly help by taking care of basic necessities like food.
2. When a nursing mother loses her baby it's helpful to remember that she will need to suddenly wean and will likely be physically uncomfortable for a while. When a sweet new mom lost her 2 month old son, Andre, I brought her a basket full of items to help dry up her milk. The box included the recipe and all the ingredients for Sage Tea (*see recipe below). I also included cabbage leaves and Sudafed, both proven to dry up milk ducts.
3. Thoughtful gifts can be meaningful. The same friend who lost her son found comfort in the book Tear Soup, special jewelry, a painting someone made for her son, and a mug that said "Andre's Mom".
4. If circumstances allow, it can be helpful for a newly grieved person/couple/family to get away for a few days. Consider going in with a group of friends and paying for a rental and packing all the food they'd need.
5. Most of all, don't downplay their grief, don't compare your grief to theirs and don't try to point out the bright side right now. There will be time for that, but the time isn't in the early stages of grief. The desire to say the "right thing" is great but sometimes less is more. Just be there, offer a heartfelt hug and shared tears. All your friend needs to hear is "This is horribly wrong and I'm so sorry this is happening. I'm here for you".
Sage Tea Recipe
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves or 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 cup water
  • Honey to sweeten (optional)
  • Lemon wedge (optional)
Infuse sage in boiling water. Let steep for 5-15. Drink 1 cup 2-6 times per day to decrease milk supply.

Read other recent articles by Maureen Witmer:

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Adina & Maureen
Adina & Maureen

Welcome! We're thrilled you stopped by. Our own joys and sorrows have taught us that a well-timed meal delivered by a friend is one of the best gifts imaginable. In this space, we share our favorite recipes to take to friends, meal-taking tips, and other ways to care for those who are dear to you.

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