The Mourning After
I wrote an article along these lines not long after my husband died in 1994 and sent it off to a woman’s magazine but I didn’t hear back from them. I still feel there is some merit in offering a few suggestions for others in this situation. Adapt, reject, make your own suggestions and perhaps together we will be able to compile a helpful list for others.
When Brett died I received a large number of bunches of flowers. I owned two vases. I barely remember seeing them let alone enjoying them. I gave a lot away. I do know that it was important that cards and flowers came to the house so that the world at least stopped for a moment. However, I received enough flowers to have a bunch of flowers delivered every month for about two years. How wonderful it would have been to receive those flowers after the initial shock and sadness where I could acknowledge the giver properly and enjoy having the flowers at a time when life had moved on for others as of course it must do.
Suggestion: Ask the florist to send the card and a note that the flowers will arrive in a month’s time or on another special day.
I am lucky to have a generous sister who still sends me flowers every Queen’s Birthday even though it is now 20 years since Brett died. It is so lovely to have that caring gesture and that just because time has gone by it doesn’t mean that we don’t think about that life-changing day.
It is overwhelming at the time; the death, a few days, the funeral and it’s all over. Ask a friend to keep note of flowers and gifts as writing thank you letters can be hard and it isn’t possible to remember everything. I felt terrible many years later when a dear friend said she hadn’t received the nice card I sent out.
Suggestion: bring a notebook with you if you are a close friend or family member to record these.
There are lots of other things you can do apart from flowers. Do say or write something, even if it is simply that you don’t know what to say. Going to the mail box in the foggy days afterwards and finding a card or note is very comforting. However, in my opinion, do not impose your religious beliefs on someone else if they have different beliefs or no beliefs. Some of the comments I found unhelpful when Brett died leaving an adored 20 month old and a two week old marriage were:
He is by god’s side now.
It was his time.
He died doing something he loved.
Suggestion: write or say something, take time over it and be honest and sincere, avoiding platitudes.
Visit the home with prior warning if you are a close friend or family member only but do not visit and/or stay too long if you are not! I remember a whole family called in the day after Brett died, I don’t even know them well enough to remember their names. They sat there wittering on about homework and the daughters’ activities etc. Finally one of my sisters asked them to leave.
Suggestion: Have a “watch dog” at the door to filter visitors and be prepared to be upfront about when it is time to leave.
Food is always welcome but please put it in a disposable container. Something that can be frozen is good. Brett died in winter so I received a proliferation of pumpkin soup and muffins which I couldn’t face at the time.
Suggestion: Take light snacks rather than weighty casseroles. Make sure it is able to be frozen. I lived on a diet of cheese straws for about a week. Something nibbly and small is good. There are usually visitors who need feeding as well so biscuits are useful too.
There are a lot of gifts you can give apart from flowers. Below is a list of things I really appreciated immediately.
• A journal to write my thoughts in.
• Vouchers for local restaurants.
• Activities and toys for Sam. I still remember a dear male friend standing on the path with a beautiful wee green trike that he had painted up and brought down for Sam.
• Toilet paper and tissues- no one tells you your body really lets you down!
• Offers to pick up and drop off visitors at the airport.
• Petrol vouchers and loan of a car.
• Someone to do basic super market shopping.
• Photo frame
• Candles or anything you know the person likes
• Wheat bag- so cuddly and comforting
• Woollen electric blanket- it was Dunedin….
• Take and print photos of the funeral and visitors
• Nice writing paper
Offer to stay on after the funeral for a week if you can and if you are close. One of my sisters did this and did all the practical things- paid bills, tidied, looked after Sam, organised a cleaner for me, did the shopping, filled the freezer and labelled everything, threw out the dead flowers, lit the fire etc. etc. The funeral comes so quickly and then everyone leaves and you are alone with your thoughts and the situation and while you do have to come to terms with it, it was lovely to have that company for the following week.
Suggestion: take time off work and stay a little longer if you can and the person wants you to.
Close friends knew that the worst would be still to come and the following were gratefully received by me a few months later.
Suggestion: think about something you can do or say a few months down the track.
• Babysitting offers.
• Magazine subscriptions- my mind couldn’t concentrate on novels for a while even though I am a big reader.
• A beautiful woven scarf.
• A silk camisole.
• One day about six months on I arrived home from work to a large silver box of gourmet meat treats. Yummy.
• Cards and letters by snail mail.
• Music chosen and put on a cd especially.
I know others of you will have completely different experiences so please contribute with your thoughts and ideas. FG