With that being said, the most common phrase that practically everyone said to me after Callie died was "Let me know if you need anything." I got this from people who live far away, people who live close, people I haven't spoken to in years, and people who I see everyday. From distant friends to close friends, everyone said this to me. And you know how many people I actually let them know I needed something? Zero. But I totally get it. People have absolutely no idea what to say to me and how to help, so they text me or end a conversation with "Let me know if you need anything." And I politely say Thank You, knowing I probably won't ever hear from that person again.
I know people want to do something but don't know what to do. And quite honestly, I have no idea what I need either. That first week of complete and utter shock and despair, I couldn't think straight. I had every person tell me to let them know if I need anything, and I just wanted to scream out, "I don't know what I need, please just think of something yourself." And I have learned over the past 3 months, that the most helpful people were the ones who thought of something to do for me, then ask me if they can do it, and I can either say yes or no. And even if I said no, I was so thankful that person thought of something to ask me.
For example, planning Callie's funeral was something I desperately needed help with. People took care of it for me. I had a friend call me and say, "we would love to put together a slideshow for Callie's funeral, is that something you would want?" YES, YES I do want that! I never would have thought of it myself, because my mind was mush but I'm so thankful they thought of it themselves and did it for us. Someone else asked me if we would want a lunch for close family after the funeral and I said yes and they did that for us. Those are just a few examples from the first week, but after the funeral, and the weeks and months following, is when we need people even more.
Here are some specifics things I have learned from people over the past 3 months:
- Be specific in how you can help your friend in need. This doesn't just apply to a friend going through grief, it could apply to someone who just had a baby, someone who is stressed, someone who is moving, or someone with sick kids at home and overwhelmed. Instead of saying, "let me know if you need anything", say, "can I bring you a meal today?", "Can I watch your kids for you so you can rest?", "can I come over and visit with you today or tomorrow?", "Can I help plan something special to remember Callie?" Just thinking of something specific and asking them is SO much more helpful than being general.
- When being specific, state it in a way as something you would love to do for them. Even though I was experiencing grief, I didn't like to burden people. It was so nice when people asked to help in a way that wouldn't be a burden to them. "I'm going to the store, can I pick up something for you?" "My son would love to play with Cooper and we have nothing going on the next 3 days, can we watch Cooper for you? Or have a playdate?" "I would love to bring you a meal this week, which day works for you?" When the person stated it in a way that seemed like they really wanted to do it for me, it really blessed me.
- Bring them food! I can't stress that enough. The first week after Callie died, we stayed at my parents house, and my parents Bible Study class brought over food all week. One person dropped off a huge box of Chelsea's chicken salad, pasta, fruit, bread etc, and we were able to eat on that for lunch all week (and if you live in Kingwood, you know and love Chelsea's). My church brought us meals for 3 weeks and our neighbors for 2 months! It was such a blessing not to think about cooking food. No matter what type of stress a friend is going through, most people won't turn down an offer to bring a meal.
- Try to remove "Let me know..." from your vocabulary completely. Not just, "Let me know if you need anything" , but even saying "Let me know if you want me to bring you a meal." Yes that is specific, but it's still putting the ball in their court and then they have to call you up and say, "Remember when you said let you know if we need a meal, well, we could really use a meal this week." It's just more awkward to ask for it and it makes me feel like you didn't really mean it (though you may have). I heard a lot, "let me know if you want to get together." And I just stare blankly as I'm not sure if they really want to get together or just saying that. I understand they don't want to burden me but I can always say no if I don't want to get together. It's just more helpful to say, "do you want to get together on Monday?" and I can either say yes, or no if I'm no feeling up to it.
- Learn what the person in grief wants. Everybody is completely different. For me as a stay at home mom, my life went from taking care of 2 kids, to taking care of 1 and it has been so painful, especially since Cooper doesn't need as much direction and attention as Callie did. Being alone with just Cooper makes it harder as the days are super long. I have memories all around us and our day to day has changed completely. Having play dates and get togethers is something I really needed and still need. Being alone is hard for me especially since I'm alone all the time, and being with people is a nice distraction. But for some people in my situation, they would want to be alone. I had a few people tell me they wanted to give me my space, but I didn't need or want space. I wanted to be around people and specifically for Cooper to have friends to play with. He and Callie played together every.single.day and his instant playmate was gone. It was shocking for both of us. I didn't realize how much they played together until she was gone. When I shared this with people, some people would say, "well, let me know if you want to have a playdate." And I just think, "didn't I just tell you that's what I wanted?" It's been so nice when friends and neighbors have initiated get togethers with us and having fun outings with Cooper has been a blessing and makes the days go by faster for us.
The biggest advice I've learned is that if you know someone experiencing grief, think of a specific way you would like to help (bringing them a meal, having them over for dinner, plan a playdate, hire someone to clean their house, offer to help them pack, plan something for the loved ones birthday they lost, sit and listen to them talk about their grief), and ask if that is something you can do. Even if you think "I don't know if they would want this," Just ask and the person can always say no. You never know, the thing you think of could be exactly what they needed, they just didn't realize it.