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Etiquette & Follow Up in the Weeks Following a Loss

After someone experiences the loss of a loved one there are a lot of things a person could do to help. Sympathy cards were most likely sent out right away. Perhaps you sent a flower arrangement, or brought some food to the bereaved to ease their difficulties. Maybe you attended a wake or funeral or paid a shiva call. But what about after the funeral has passed and time moves on? Is there anything else you should or could do?

Consider that in the first few days or weeks following a loved one’s death, the bereaved are busy with funeral arrangements, notifications, and receiving guests. They may experience a blurred sense of activity surrounding them. Then, suddenly, they may feel very much alone with their grief and loss. Certainly they may need a little "alone time" to continue their grieving process, write thank you notes, and settle the personal business affairs of the deceased. But they shouldn’t be left with a sense of total abandonment either.

There are many small acts of kindness and friendship that you can tender during this extended healing time. The simplest and least intrusive would be to send a Thinking of You card or note card three to four weeks after the death. A little note to let someone know you are still concerned and thinking of them can be a great help. This gentle way of staying in touch would also be especially significant when remembering the one year anniversary of someone’s death.

A phone call is best made when you are offering a specific gesture of assistance. May I help with grocery shopping/babysitting/lawn mowing/window washing/transportation? Please come to dinner/go out to lunch with us. Would you like to go for coffee/come to our barbeque/go to a movie with me? We’re going to a craft festival/outdoor concert/fashion show/museum and we’d be so pleased if you’d come with us.

Drop in visits should never be made without phoning ahead to ask if it’s convenient for you to stop by. These visits should also have a purpose. We’re going for a ride in the country/a trip to the mall; may we swing by so you can come with us? I just baked some cookies; may I stop by to bring you some? I made copies of some photos I thought you might like; may I drop them off?

Don’t feel badly if your efforts to reach out are at first declined. Everyone grieves differently, and some people are ready for visitors and outings before others are. After the initial invitation you can simply wait a week or two before reaching out again. If the person is still not ready for social contact, you can always send another Thinking of You card in the following months. It lets the bereaved know that you are still there for them with no set timeframe or deadline. You are there whenever they are ready.

Reaching out to those that are suffering through grief isn’t always easy, but you will never regret acting kindly to those who are in need of it most.