A Friends and Family Post
I’m often asked for practical suggestions on how people can best help someone they love who is losing, or has lost, their loved one. Any desire to help is appreciated, but some things are better than others. Here’s what I’ve learned, both from my own experience, and talking with other Widows. These are merely suggestions, you know your person best so use your best judgement.
And if they are too overwhelmed to thank you, I’ll do it for them. Thank you for caring, for helping, and for loving them.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
HELPFUL AND WELCOME
Paper plates, towels, toilet paper, Kleenex, and cases of sodas showed up at my doorstep one day. This was one of the most practical and useful gifts I received. Despite being in shock, you suddenly have a revolving door of visitors. These things come in handy. Paper plates aren’t my favorite due to the environmental impact, but when you don’t have the energy to load or unload the dishwasher, they may be the only way food gets eaten. And trust me, when you have a steady stream of visitors the last thing you want to do is run out of toilet paper. And you can leave them at the front door and send her a text that they are there if you can’t bring yourself to come in or don’t want to disturb someone on hospice.
Don’t ask what can I do, just do. When you’re in crisis, it takes way too much effort to even think of something when people ask. Show up and rake leaves or mow the lawn. Haul the trash cans out or shovel snow off the walk. If you’re a regular visitor of the inner circle variety, throw a load of linens or kids clothes in the wash while you’re there. Run the vacuum. Walk the dog. Clean the guest bathroom. Dust. Whatever needs doing. I was a zombie and didn’t realize at first how many people had jumped in to help. Friends raked fall leaves, mowed the lawn and took out the trash. Neighbors shoveled the snow out of the driveway. And my sweet kid sister stocked my fridge with homemade nurturing goodness and cleaned my kitchen every time she came over. Every. Single. Time.
Find out what staples she may usually buy, and pick up a few extra when you’re at the store. Eggs, milk, bread, fruit, garbage bags, whatever. I had another Widow who always called me on her way to the market to see what she could pick up for me. She knew what I was going through and that a trip to the market was beyond my capacity. She also knew that I may not have touched anything in my fridge and may not have room for anything else.
Healthy food! Many of the grieving don’t have much of an appetite, and are probably not getting anything resembling good nutrition. So skip the unhealthy casseroles and rice bakes. Salads, smoothies, fruit and anything resembling a vegetable are great. The meals were always appreciated, but seeing a green vegetable always made me a little more excited about dinner, even if it was a bagged salad. No smells for Dan to deal with and nature’s vitamins made me feel better. I now know the role nutritional deficiencies play in exacerbating depression and anxiety, both of which crash the grief party.
PRO-TIP: The soon to be departed person is unlikely to be eating the food you bring. While chicken soup may be good for the soul, the grieving can only handle so much of it.
Make Eating Easy
Frozen crock pot meals were one of my favorites (a Pinterest win that came from a dude!) or gift cards to restaurants that deliver (with menus) or delivery services like Cafe Courier or Uber Eats. There is no pressure to eat these before they go bad and no dishes to wash and return!
You’re Not Cooking for an Army
Okay, I like comfort food as much as the next person, but the heavy carbs aren’t the best thing in this situation. If it’s your speciality (i.e. Aunt Mary’s famous lasagna) or you know they love it, package it in smaller portions that are easy to freeze and reheat.
If you are going to cook, making sure your person knows what to do with the dishes is a godsend. If you want your dishes back, please write your name in a permanent marker on the bottom, and offer to pick them up later. I’m sure I inadvertently stole dishes or gave them to the wrong people because I didn’t get a sticky note with the person’s name on it in time and forgot. (Hey, Widow Brain is a real thing.)
People on chemo are sensitive to smells, so no matter how delicious it may be, anything with a strong aroma may be too much. I can’t stress how quickly a healthy spouse or kid can lose their appetite when their loved one takes one whif of your <<fill in the blank famous specialty>> and projectile vomits all over the kitchen floor. (AKA the reason I will never eat a breakfast burrito or chocolate shake ever again.)
Got any other suggestions? Send them my way. Thanks!