You know what's crazy? People who say to someone in grief, “Call me if you need anything.”

Why so crazy?

Because there's ZERO chance we’re going to call.

Why? Lots of possible reasons ….

  1. We don’t know what we need. We're barely functioning / not functioning.
  2. We can’t think. We can’t plan. We’re in a fog. Our brain does not work.
  3. We don’t have the energy or desire or motivation to pick up a phone and TALK to you and try to explain what we need.
  4. We don’t like asking for help. We don’t want to impose on people, even if those people said, “Call me.” Maybe they just said “Call me” because the didn’t know what else to say. They didn’t really want to get a call. 

    And then there's the problem of that one time when we did call, you were busy and you said, Oh I’m so sorry but ...

    - I have a meeting
    - I have to pick Jimmy up from school
    - Janie has a soccer game

    While these are all legitimate things going on in your life, if I gathered the courage to call you to ask for something and you’re busy, I’m literally never calling you again and probably not anyone else either.

    You may be thinking, “But Jenn, we do have busy lives and IMPORTANT THINGS on our calendars. What are we supposed to do?"

    What you do is, you ask someone you know who is NOT having a crisis to pick up Jimmy and take Janie to soccer so you can help that person you know actually is in a DIRE situation AND who you offered help to.

So, to recap the problem. People offer us help, and we actually need help. But the “help” is never received because we don’t call and the people who want to help don’t call either.

So what's a solution? 

I'm thinking a list the griever can literally give/email/text to the people who want to help them. A kind of “here are the things I’m going to need.” 

Maybe 2 lists, one for the early days, and the another for YEARS after the fact.

EARLY DAYS (months 0-6 or longer depending on how I’m doing)
  • Food. If you know me and what I like, just bring it. If you don't know, ask. And also ask about allergies. Then pick a day and time and let me know you’ll drop it off at the door and text me when it’s there. I may not have showered in 3 days and don’t want company. I also may not want to talk. Pack the food in insulated zippered bags so it will keep if I don’t grab it immediately and neighborhood cats and dogs can’t get to it. You can say in your message “Text me back if you want me to ring the bell and come in. Otherwise I’ll know you’re not in the mood for company.”
  • What kind of food? Casseroles are great. They can be frozen and eaten later. Fresh fruit (already washed, cut, and packaged for easy grab and eat.) Sandwich fixings. These are just a few ideas. Asking in advance is the best way to make sure you bring what is needed and wanted.
  • Pick a day and time and say you’re coming over to do laundry, take the kids out for ice cream or a movie, bring  me a coffee, sit and talk or sit and not talk, walk the dog, clean the bathroom, anything I need or want during that window of time.
  • Let me know you're going to the grocery store and ask me for my shopping list. If I don't have a list, you know me well enough to grab the basics (milk, eggs, sandwich stuff, canned goods, wine, cheese, etc.).
  • I NEED you to reach out to me and let me know you're thinking about me without any expectation that I'm going to reply. I need to hear from you but most of the time I won't have the bandwidth or energy or ability to respond. Please know it doesn't mean I don't love you or care about you. Surviving each day is the best I can do for now. If you want to help but have no clue what to say, maybe sign me up for this service.
  • There will be times when we have plans, dinner or maybe a bigger event is coming up like a graduation or birthday party ... I may not make it. My grief can't be controlled or put on a timeline. If it shows up an hour before our dinner or the graduation, I may not have it in me to shower, put on makeup, come out in public and be sociable.
  • I need you to support and encourage me without pressure. Please don't take offense if I don't reply to your messages quickly (or at all). Please remind yourself that I truly appreciate ANY and ALL efforts you make and if I don't say so, it's because I'm not in my right mind. I'm barely keeping my head above water. If you NEED me to thank you for every individual thing you do, then please don't do the things.
  • Don't be afraid to say his name. Don't be afraid to say "Remember that time when ..."
  • If I cry, don't think I was fine before and you messed it all up by reminding me of the death. I wasn't fine and you talking about him didn't "remind me." I'm acutely aware at all times of his absence. You being willing to talk about him gives me permission to talk about him which is what I need and yes I might cry but that's OK. It's OK if you cry too.
  • I need you to expect that I will be grieving a LOT longer than the standard rule of thumb which for some crazy reason is 1 year. 1 year is the length of time where the pain and grief are intense and nearly continuous. For some people, the 2nd year is even harder because the shock and denial have worn off, or you realize keeping busy isn't working, so you are finally facing and FEELING the pain more.
  • Please remember important dates - anniversary dates and holidays are EXTRA hard. The days leading up to these dates are frequently harder than the date itself. Reach out, let me know you remember. Offer to spend time with me, to give me something to do on the hard days but don't take it personally if I want to be alone.
  • Don't be afraid to say his name. This applies for forever. As time goes on people have a tendency to think I'm going to get over the loss and they don't want to accidentally remind me. There's never a time when I will have "forgotten" he died so you can't catch me unaware. If you do, it will be a pleasant surprise. That doesn't mean I won't get emotional. I might. But people remembering my son makes me feel good, not bad. I want to remember him. I want others to remember him. I want to talk about him and hear stories about him. There's literally never been a time when someone asked me about Jackson that it wasn't welcome.
  • This one is super important, I need you to invite me to do things and keep inviting me even if I say no a whole bunch of times. No doesn't mean no, I don't like being around YOU, it means I'M not up to it YET.
  • If you're unsure or uncomfortable about anything, ask me in a text message. That gives me time and space to assess where I'm at and decide how to reply.

    OK, now you have the lists. Grievers, please forward/send them out to your people so they can do better for you. I'm sure they want to ... they just don't know how.

    If you haven't experienced deep grief yet, file these away. Not to be a fatalist but you WILL need this information in the future, either for someone you love or yourself. Be prepared. When you know better, you do better.
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