"In our age of social media, it can be easy to click on the red heart emoji under an Instagram pic and feel like you’ve acknowledged it but it’s really not enough."
Through her own losses as a teenager, Megan Roantree has become accustomed to dealing with grief and, with the help of others who’ve been through it, wants to pass on what works when it comes to helping those who’ve lost
The time surrounding a death can be a total blur, but something that stands out to me 11 years after my dad’s death, and seven years after my best friend Shauna’s passing, is the people who helped me through it.
It’s totally fair that people have no idea what to do when you lose someone you love because let’s face it, nothing is going to make it okay. I’ve heard so many people say how awkward they feel when it comes to saying or doing the right thing at this tricky time. But there are things you can do that will go a long way in the grieving process.
As we all know grief is totally different for each person, so one statement or phrase might be a huge comfort to one person, but not for another. Don’t overthink it. Don’t feel like you have to provide a magic solution that will sort it as in most cases a simple ‘I’m so sorry’ will be most appreciated. The best thing to do is to tell them ‘I’m here if you need anything’ or ‘call me at any time if you want to talk about it’ but here’s the kicker, you really have to mean it.
Personal and emotional ways of helping can be as simple as attending the funeral, showing there’s a strong bond and that you wanted to be nearby at the tricky time. And if you can’t be there, a card will always be appreciated.
In our age of social media, it can be easy to click on the red heart emoji under an Instagram pic and feel like you’ve acknowledged it but it’s really not enough. Even if you do decide to reach out via social media, a personal and private message will go a lot further than a ‘thinking of you’ under a status or photo.
If you happened to know the person who died, try sharing a memory, or personal comment about that person. It can really help a grieving family member to see the love other people had for their loved one. Sharing a memory of their late mum or grandad can really help them to feel that he or she won’t be forgotten. I will never tire of hearing stories and tidbits about my kind, intelligent, sarcastic dad even if I’ve heard them before.
If you happen to have a photo of the loved one that they might not have seen before, do send it on. 10 years after my dad died, an American woman who used to live near us sent me a photo of myself cuddling into my dad when I was about six. I had never seen it before, and it lifted me like nothing else had in a long time. Baby photos of my best friend Shauna and I help me to remember that although we lost her at 16, we didn’t waste a minute not being best friends.
It doesn’t have to be pictures either, in some cases, it can be something to symbolise the person who’s passed away. “When my mam died, she had a load of wool around the house which I gave to my best friend’s mam because I knew we wouldn’t use it.” Ailbhe, 25, recalls. “To my surprise, she knitted me a gorgeous blanket out of the wool and gave it to me so I’d always have it. I was genuinely speechless, best present ever. It still stands out to me six years on because it’s something that my mom touched, and bought and it was made by someone who cared.”
Note down or remember birthdays, anniversaries or any other significant days that might be difficult for your grieving friend. A simple text on the day or even an offer of company can mean the world and help remind them that they aren’t alone in their grief.
Sometimes actions really do speak louder than words. This is where practical help comes in.
Firstly, remember basic like eating could be the last thing on your friend’s mind. You can help this by bringing nutritious, easy to eat food, like soup, to their house. And while many people do this during the days of the funeral and wake, remember that grief does end when the funeral does.
When everything quietens down meals and shopping can be a struggle. Large portions of easy to heat foods, like lasagna or pie that freezes well can be of huge help when it’s the last thing on their mind. Even better – if you happen to know their favourite food, make plenty of it! A voucher or delivery from their favourite takeaway can help take the pressure off.
“I was living with two guys when my dad passed away and I was down home for about 10 days. We were friends but only knew each other through renting the apartment. When I came back to Dublin they had cooked me enough dinners for a few days,and put daffodils beside my bed,” says Grainne, who added that it was one of the kindest things anyone had done for her.
But dinner isn’t the only thing that gets forgotten about or becomes hard, and so providing a bag of handy things like toilet paper, washing up liquid, sanitary products, milk and bread can help take the edge off that daunting first shop. Things like running errands on their behalf, putting out the bins, picking up the kids or helping them to do their day to day, can be a simple but truly important way of helping them get back to their new normal. This is something Sinead learned after she lost her cousin Alan. “My best friend advised me not go back to work so quick after. I did anyway, so he picked me up from and dropped me to work every single day for about a month. He worked nights at the time and frequently would get up out of bed to do it.” she recalls.
A care package can also be a good way to reach out. After things like groceries and eating are sorted, a box of nice things can help show how much you care, whether it’s face masks, magazines, and chocolates or anything you know they love and anything that would make them smile.
With all this in mind, one of the most important pieces of advice I can give is this: Remember that grief doesn’t have an end date. Acknowledging your friend’s bereavement six weeks, 8 months or even 15 years after the death can really help.
Jane, who lost her dad four years ago, knows all too well the power of support that goes beyond a funeral. “3 months after my dad died, a friend at work gave me a lovely bouquet of flowers and a hug. She said after 3 months most people forget you’re grieving, so this was to remind me that she knew and understood. It meant everything.”
Widower Steve treasures the words of a local restaurant manager, who comforted him after his wife passed away in 2015. “When my wife died, the manager of our favourite Indian restaurant gave me a hug and said he will always remember her, and will always be ready to talk about his and his colleagues’ memories of her, and will do so now, or tomorrow, or in a week, month, year or ten years.”
So never be afraid to ask your friend about their loved one, you may be afraid of upsetting them or reminding them, but believe me, those who’ve lost never have their loved ones far from their minds, and the chance to bring them up again helps keep memories alive – one of the most important parts of bereavement.