On Saturday night, June 8, we learned that my husband’s
mother was experiencing some new complications and that his dad was getting
worried. Things accelerated rapidly, and we lost her Friday, June 14 at about
1:00 pm. Her funeral was Monday, June 17, 2019. It’s been a hard week.
During these difficult days, I’ve learned or affirmed a few timeless truths.
- When people are in crisis, making one more decision just heightens stress. Instead of saying, “What can we do for you?” try saying, “We’re bringing food. Would 1:00 be okay?” or “We are mowing your grass today.” or “Could I come stay with your loved one for an hour while you take a break?” This way, fewer decisions must be made and the person can use existing energy to focus on the crisis at hand.
- Food is great. Take food. Really. Particularly wholesome foods and things with wide appeal: potatoes, rice, lean meats, whole grain breads, fruits, veggies, salad etc. Doesn’t need to be fancy at all. Just food.
- The right thing to say to someone in crisis is usually, “I’m so sorry.” When you find you want to say more, repeat that. After she passed, many people told us Joyce was in a better place as if this was somehow news to us. We know this better than anyone. We don’t need a reminder. That reality fills our brains right beside our grief that is real and lasting. Just tell us you’re sad too and that you loved her. Or just say, “I’m so sorry.” (Then tell us what time you’re bringing dinner.)
- There is no point in saying, "Call me if you need anything." Most people I know would never call a person for help, no matter how much you emphasize "ANYthing." Say, "I'll call tomorrow to see what I can do for you." Then call.
- Here’s something: the last thing someone needs during a difficult time is to run out of essentials like toiletries, kitchen supplies, or paper goods. When you provide an assortment of these necessary items, you will be assuring that your friend avoids the annoyance of running out of paper towels or toothpaste later. By the way, I don’t think I ever would have thought of this. Someone brought us a basket of these things and it was wonderful!
- Milestone moments matter. As we went through pictures for the slide show we played at the visitation, I saw how often my in-laws participated in the big and small moments of our lives and the lives of their beloved grandchildren. Birthday parties, dance recitals, ballgames, and more: they were there. And when they couldn’t attend, they made sure those moments were not forgotten. For example, in 2016, two grands graduated from high school and one from college. We held a mini-graduation ceremony with everyone wearing caps and gowns and processing in to the living room to Pomp and Circumstance. Corny? Maybe. But what a sacred memory that day is now.
- Funerals matter. I cannot begin to express what it meant to us to have over 150 people at my mother-in-law’s funeral. Friends, family members, neighbors, and colleagues came to share their condolences. A lay leader from my church represented our congregation, driving the four hours on a Monday to attend. (We were comforted and touched by his presence.) My mother-in-law’s brother (who has lost both of his siblings in just two months) was blessed by the presence of six members of his church which is an hour and a half away. My sister-in-law’s church is across town; her friends were present as well. Church. I just love it.
- We can only build or repair relationships with the living. Don’t wait to tell loved ones how you feel about them and don’t allow little disagreements to soil your relationships. Irritating qualities become endearing the very second they are out of reach. Just go ahead and let that stuff go ahead of time.