“God doesn’t have angels show up in the flesh to bring us meals and dole out hugs. He sends you and me to be His hands and feet!”
One of the most tragic things that will happen in your life is the death of your parent. Unfortunately all of our parents will die one day. We wish, we hope, they will live forever but they won’t. I have had four parents/stepparents die in my lifetime and I have learned more each time. In the past, I too didn’t know what to do. Death scared me, but the love for my friends has helped me overcome the fear. Instead I have come to realize they need my support! I have spent many hours in funeral homes and I have personally been to countless funerals. I have gone to support friends, relatives, and have needed the support myself. The one thing I have learned over the years is that people don’t know what to do or they are afraid they will do the wrong thing so they do nothing. Nothing is always the wrong thing to do.
When a person loses a parent they feel very alone and vulnerable. They need your support! Friends are especially important to those who live out of town from immediate family, are not close to their immediate family or who do not have any immediate family. So prepare yourself now. Your close friend will one day lose their parent, and you may be the only support they have.
Listed below are four ways you can support your friends. Do as many as you can. Don’t just say to your friend, “Let me know what I can do.” Most of time they don’t realize what they need until the event is all over. Be specific and take action. Your friend may be in shock, full of grief, and numb for many days. Their parent is gone! It is not possible for you to be there for them too much but you can surly be there too little. Your absence will be noted, and there will be nothing you can do to fix it. Their parent will only die once. Remember what Dr Martin Luther King Jr once said “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friend.”
1-Plan on Attending
Plan now that whenever your friend’s parent dies you will be there. Be there for all of the events if possible but at least one, the more you attend the better. This applies even if you have never met their parent. Remember this time is not for the deceased but for those grieving. Nothing is sadder than a family being all alone in their grief. These events are scheduled for the specific purpose to support the family. Your friend needs you there.
If for some reason you cannot make any of the funeral events you must tell your friend ahead of time. Do not tell your friend after the event why you could not make it. I guarantee your friend looked for you every time the door opened hoping and wondering when you would walk through that door. I know because I have had very close friends fail to tell me they were not coming, assuming I knew the distance was too far to travel or that they had to work etc. I waited hours longing to see their face and feel their embrace.
Lots of flowers are always better to see at a funeral than too few. Many families request donations be made in lieu of flowers. This case is the exception to the flower rule. However, if you are related or are very close to your friend- you speak on the phone weekly or get together in each other’s home still send flowers. If the family does not request donations be made at the end of the obituary then realize they are hoping flowers will be sent. In some cases there may be a cultural reason or a personal reason. My mother who was German loved flowers and in Germany you always brought flowers for any occasion. When my father died the funeral home was filled with flowers and it brought great comfort and much love to my mother.
If it is known you cannot afford flowers but are attending, your presence will be enough. However, if you cannot attend you really should try to send flowers. In your absence the flowers will represent you. Call a few other friends and each pitch in $10. I promise you, a $30 basket of flowers will mean a lot to your grieving friend. Remember just because you might not want flowers does not mean they don’t want them. If the obituary does not say to donate in lieu of flowers, they are happy to receive them. If you know your friend through your neighborhood, work, a group, club or study ask everyone to pitch in and send flowers! Don’t worry about what kind of flowers to send. Simply call the local florist and tell them your budget. They will know what other items have been ordered and will do a great job putting something together.
The newest funeral memorial gifts on the market are ceramic items. If you have enough people pitching in you could have the florist add something small to the floral arraignment. Over the years groups I have been a part of have given floral arrangements with small angels or wind chimes added. Something small is better than a large item. If you want to give something large it is appropriate to inform the friend ahead of time and allow them to pick it out themselves. I love the items I received from my friends, but that is not always the case for everyone. It can be awkward telling your friend you want to exchange it for something else, or would prefer something smaller. So most people don’t. It’s also overwhelming to receive multiple large ceramic gifts and feel obligated to display them all. I had a friend ask first and I was so glad she did, it would have been three large ceramic items received in honor of my mother.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure it is done in time for the first funeral event. The exception to this rule would be if you are taking them to pick out a large memorial item, in this case still send a floral arrangement and notify them of the memorial gift as soon as you see them. There is nothing worse than sitting through five hours or more at a funeral home with nothing from your friends and no explanation as to why. It doesn’t matter how big the gift is the day after when you were feeling rejected and abandoned by your friends during the visitation time at the funeral home. Believe me, they will appreciate the flowers. If you can afford them-send them, even if you plan on attending all of the events.
3-Help with the Children
If your friend has small children or even out of town grandchildren, offer to sit with them during the funeral service. Bring quiet activities for them to keep themselves occupied or take them to a park or to dinner midway through visitation. Most viewings can be up to 5-6 hours with the family hour before hand. Your friend will not be able to leave. They will have to stay to greet everyone. However it is appropriate for children to leave or take a break. Call ahead of time and offer to help if you are able. I promise you the first thing a parent-mothers in particular, or a grandparent is thinking about when they are making the arrangements with the funeral home director is; “What will I do with my kids for that long!?” They are racking their brain with ideas and worries. As soon as you hear about the death offer to help. They may or may not take you up on it, but I promise you they are relieved you offered.
In my case no one offered and I did not think to ask anyone so I allowed my children to bring electronics. I was a bit embarrassed but I didn’t know what else to do. I needed them occupied while I talked with my mother’s friends. Thankfully when they got hungry my teenage son was able to drive them to Mc Donald’s for a quick dinner, but not everyone has children old enough to drive. Having my husband take them was not an option as I really needed his support. So offer to help, occupy and feed the kids.
Also consider offering to take their children ahead of time to buy the funeral clothes, this is especially helpful with teenage children who may need to try clothes on. In my case picking up a size 10 boy’s suit for my younger son was an easy purchase. However the worst part of my week after my mother died was taking my teenage daughter shopping. In the middle of the first store we entered I realized I should have asked a friend to take her. At one point I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “My mom is dead!!!!! You can’t wear that!” Whether they realize it or not, if your friend has children they will need your help, so offer it.
During the final week of my mother’s life and the following I didn’t cook a meal. The only meal that I ate for a solid two meals that did not come from a restaurant was the one meal a friend brought over. What a stark difference from 25 years ago when my father died and our house was filled with food from friends. I’m not sure why we don’t bring meals over anymore but we don’t and we need to start! Bring food to their house, and ask if you can bring something to the funeral home. Sometimes there will be an area where the family can take a break and have a snack. We didn’t think of this ahead of time, but a friend brought a pie to the funeral home. The funeral director showed us an area where we could enjoy it. It was a welcome snack half way through. Always, always bring food. Even if you are out of town and need to have it ordered in, bring food!
Have I always done all of these things for my friends? No, not always. I typically try to send flowers and drop a meal off. I have tried to help with the kids. But it wasn’t until my mother’s death that I realized how important having people offer ahead of time to help with the kids so you have a plan. Or how devastated you can feel when people don’t attend the funeral events not explaining why they are not going to attend. So I felt the need to share my experiences with all of you.
I am a changed person, I regret not doing more for those of my friends who have already lost parents, and I plan on doing even more in the future. I hope you are educated and encouraged to be the support God wants you to be for your friend. God doesn’t have angels show up in the flesh to bring us meals and dole out hugs, He sends you and me to be His hands and feet! So show up and support your friends, they will need you now more than ever during this time!
Romans 12:15 NIV Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
With love and encouragement-Mary