We’ve all said it – “Call me if you need anything” – and then inwardly cringed. We know the person who is grieving their lost family member, marriage, pet, or health isn’t going to call us, because we’ve never called anyone when it was said to us. We want to help in a real and tangible way during those first few terrible days and weeks, but how? We don’t want to seem intrusive, and we aren’t exactly sure what is needed. During this time, it’s still not a good idea to call up your neighbor and ask them. Their brain is foggy and from pain and grief, and they will probably say “I don’t need anything” when, in fact, there’s a lot they need done.
Five Ways To Help Your Neighbors During Times Of Loss
- Mow their yard of have it mowed and trimmed
- Pick up groceries or have them delivered
- Make a meal or have one delivered
- Walk their dog for several days
- If they have children, ask if it is ok for you to make a play date to take children to local park, etc.
Unfortunately, Mother Earth is not aware of immense losses suffered, and goes on with her life – sprouting grass, weeds, etc. This adds further stress to an ill or grieving person who is unable to care for their beautiful lawn that they take so much pride in. You might not be able to bring back their loved one, but you can make sure that their lawn is gorgeous the day of the funeral. You may want to drop a note in their mailbox to let them know you’ve hired a lawn service or are going to care for your lawn themselves and add the date and time. This will take one worry from a mind plagued with worry.
When tragedy strikes, the last thing people are thinking about is going out to get milk. bread, toilet paper, sandwich meat, bananas, bagels, cereal, etc. Yet these things remain something they need – and despite the fact that many may be bringing casseroles, we can guarantee nobody is bringing toilet paper. Get a separate order on your next shopping trip and carry it over. Make your visit brief and matter of fact – they will likely be overwhelmed and unsure what to say, still reeling from their loss, so say something brief like, “we will have plenty of time to catch up later. I just wanted you to have these things for right now.” Hug them, and then head home.
In the early days of a loss, may people find their homes flooded with food, so much so that some goes to waste. If you are within view of your neighbor’s house, you can probably tell from comings and goings if this is the case. On the other hand, some people live far away from family and friends, and may not even have one meal delivered. You can gauge this and make a decision about when to take food and how to do it. Maybe you should have several pizzas delivered if people are there from out of town, or if it’s several weeks after the loss, maybe you should take the meal over and offer to share it with the neighbor for company. This depends on how well you know the neighbor, the type of loss, etc.
If your neighbor has a dog, the dog’s needs go on immediately, even after a terrible loss. In fact, while your neighbor is at the hospital, the dog is at home, waiting to be let out to go to the bathroom. Who on your block has a key to the home? If you can coordinate these efforts, your neighbor will be forever grateful. Many people don’t realize that in the first few weeks after a loss, grief is physically painful, and your neighbor may literally be unable to walk for long distances. Walking the dog may be a tremendous weight off their minds. On the other hand, maybe being in nature is the only place that they find solace – but would love you to tag along (Some people fear being alone after a loss). Ask them what they would prefer, and make sure to be make decisions based on your gut if they don’t answer outright (many people don’t).
This last one is a little trickier, and reserved only for those who had a relationship with the neighbor’s children prior to the loss – unless the neighbor truly has nobody else, and her husband just died suddenly – then it may be time to speak to her frankly and ask her if she needs help with her children. Maybe it’s driving them to school, or taking them to the park for a playdate, or to football practice. While children are also feeling the loss acutely, they respond in different ways, and many psychologists suggest that their routines should not be altered if at all possible, but that may be really difficult for a parent to accomplish when one of them is suddenly gone. Show up and say, “hey, I’m taking my kids to school now, can I take yours too?” or similar.
Navigating grief – especially someone else’s – can be difficult because we don’t know exactly what they need. Yet, we know that the last thing they want to feel is alone. Doing something, even if it is not perfect, is far better than nothing. The practical aspects are important, but knowing someone cares is far more important. It also helps you feel not so helpless, and goes a long way to bringing back the “neighborly” aspect of life that so many of us say is missing from our communities.
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