On Being There for One Another

Recently, due to the death of my step-father, I experienced what it was like to be cared for and supported dBeing There Feb 2014uring a time of grief. It had been many years since I experienced care from this point of view.

I would like to share some thoughts on what it was like to be supported by others during the difficult transition from hospital, hospice, to funeral. It is my hope this article will give you things to be aware of if and when a friend experiences the death of a loved one, and how you can be helpful.

Bear one another’s burdens …  Galatians 6:2
Paul encourages the church in Galatia to bear one another’s burdens. We Christians are called to love one another (John 13:35). When death visits a friend or family we know, naturally people want to help. The issue is figuring out how best to do so. How can we help share in bearing this burden during the demanding times of death?

Words Matter
Be it in person, voicemail, text or email, it means a great deal to hear words of support.  Simply saying “I feel bad for you all, this must be difficult”, or “We are praying for you” or “We love you and are thinking about you”, such expressions are small but significant ways to uphold a family. Don’t underestimate them because they are common phrases.  Friends just saying “we love you” often moved us to tears.

Decision Fatigue
On the day after her husband’s death my mom finished one of many phone calls, put down her phone and looked at me and said “there are a lot of arms to this thing”.  She was referring to all the levels of decisions and communication she had been through and how many more she had left. Following three grueling days at the hospital, where we watched her husband tread the line between life and death, full of consolations with medical staff, she now had to communicate with family and friends, her boss and colleagues at work (who were loving and supportive) as well as her best friends who were calling to support her and find out how she was doing.  Special cousins called and asked what they could do.

Through it all I noticed something I’ve seen in a lot of people during times of death: decision fatigue. People want to help and carry out the wishes of the family. That is a great thing. Yet after suffering lack of sleep for many nights, being at the hospital and making some difficult decisions along the way, I found the question “What can I do to help?” and the offer “Let us know if we can do anything” to be paralyzing for my mom.

It is helpful to offer options. Instead of asking how you can help (open ended question which demands a lot of brain capacity), offer to help in one or two ways (which doesn’t require quite as much energy): such as saying “when my mother died I was blessed when someone brought food to the hospital. May we do that for you?” One friend said “I would like to hire housecleaners who will come and clean your house while I stay there and watch”.  An offer such as that was easy to say yes to, was welcomed and needed. Not everyone could have gotten away with making an offer like this, but we took it as a gift from God.  Remember that ordinary tasks don’t stop for death: mowing the lawn, caring for pets, etc. A thoughtful person can help immensely by tending to those fronts.

Food is Good
Let’s just say I’m not one who misses many meals. 🙂  But on at least three days when at the hospital, it was after 7:00 pm and I realized I never got around to having lunch, let alone dinner. Sure I grazed on popcorn, cookies, and coffee, but I failed to have an actual meal with protein.  Being in the hospital all day dulls the senses. Families do a lot of waiting, have conversations about what is happening and what should be done next. It is in time of crises when we live from hour to hour. Eating takes a back seat.

One night some friends just showed up to the hospital with a bunch of gourmet sandwiches. Everybody ate.  Another friend asked what foods we liked and came back with three grocery bags of food from Whole Foods, full of food we knew and loved. Such gestures are not soon forgotten.

A word about Lasagna. Lasagna is good, it warms up easily in the microwave and is a hearty and comforting meal. For that reason, a lot of people tend to give Lasagna. We were grateful to receive every bit of food, including the Lasagna. That being said, I will report (in love!) that we got a lot of Lasagna.

The Blessing of In-laws
For the persons closest to the deceased, the voicemails often pile up. Outsiders can feel shut out when always being confronted with voicemails.  If you want to get word to or from the family, in-laws can be very helpful. The spouses of the family members of the deceased are often more available, have more energy, and are often looking for ways to help. The in-laws usually have access to the inner circle of grief. If you’ve got their phone numbers, spouses are helpful  for communicating during times of grief.

Grief and support is learned and taught
There is a lot of mystery around death: unwritten customs and traditions. I noticed that among those who are younger yet, they were most acquainted and equipped to support us in our grief, as were those who grew up in small towns.

What have you taught your children or grandchildren about when someone dies? What do people do? What do families do? How does our church family help?  Offering some age-appropriate thoughts on this today will help in the future, when the days come when death does affect someone our children might know.

An Important Time to Be Church
When a person or family is grieving, it is an important time for us to step up be the church.  Prayers, kind words, the offering of food, acts of good will are each ways we can let people know they are not alone in their time of trial.  Such action communicates love at a time when love is needed. I learned this firsthand, thank-you.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Jason Talsness



Posted February 11, 2014 by Amazing Grace Lutheran Church | Pastors Corner | Permalink |