Friday, August 7, 2009

Asking for Help

Grieving people should not be expected to ask for help - it is an unreasonable and unfair demand. I remember in the first weeks of my widowhood reading in a couple of grief manuals to ask specifically for what I wanted/needed. My thought was "Now I have to do this too?" Another job to add to the already large pile of tasks I still have to get through - completing insurance/medical paperwork, figuring out the finances, arranging the funeral/memorial services, dealing with my grief, parenting young sons also grieving... At that time having to ask for help felt like an intrusion and almost a slap to my face. But I went ahead and did it anyway. The results were far from what the grief books predicted. Instead of people saying sure they'd do this or that for me, I experienced the complete opposite with the people I asked refusing to do what I'd requested!

Here is an example (one of many and I'll only relate this one). My husband died on Oct. 25th. We live on a heavily wooded, double lot. Come fall, there is a lot of leaf raking to get through. A mom at the boy's school called me about a week after the death to bring a group of parents and kids over to do the raking. I didn't want it done for a number of reasons. For one, it was very early in the grief process for me and even the thought of a bunch of people in my yard raking was something I could not handle - I needed solitude and privacy. I kept thinking that people would need to come in to use the bathrooms and would I need to provide drinks/hot chocolate for the kids? I just couldn't handle the intrusion and at the same time wanted to do all of the raking myself. It had been a job my husband and I had shared for 11 years together and I wanted to do it with him "by my side" one last time. The thought of the physical strain/exercise in the cold autumn air appealed to me greatly.

Even though I owed this woman absolutely no explanation, I tried to explain all of these thoughts after a number of days fretting about it. She didn't seem to understand my reasoning - in fact, she was taken aback. I remember offering her some other options of how she might assist me but it seemed as though all that she wanted to do was the raking. She was so pleased with herself for making the offer. So, after a number of times being similarly shot down, I just stopped asking and did what needed to be done by myself.

Suggestions for offering assistance to the grieving:

1. Go ahead and bake that casserole but remember to bake another at the six-month, year and year and a half anniversary marks too. Support pretty much seems to dry up after the first three months and I found that I needed it the most long after the early grief period. None of us had an appetite until after the first three months anyway. You don't know how much I longed for those casseroles a year later when we were eating again and I was working and struggling to juggle being an only parent!
2. Ask what you can specifically do and offer your assistance. Many of us have great difficulty requesting help. Don't wait for the griever to ask - offer it and be on the ready to say "yes" even though it is not what you might have expected doing.
3. If the griever has children, offer to take the kids to an event, activity or even to babysit a night or too. Another school mom ended up doing the nicest thing for us when she called at Christmas and offered to take my two boys with hers to the new Disney movie out. It was a rare escape from our painful reality for all of us.
4. Gift cards to local restaurants were very much appreciated because I could use them later on. It was also nice for all of us to have a night out because it forced us to do so.
5. Although we got a ton of sympathy cards in the beginning, it would have been so nice to have received a message of support later on in the mail.
6. Wine is always good to give if the griever does not have an objection.
7. JUST LISTEN - refrain from offering advice.
8. Gifts such as a certificate for a massage or pedicure would be unexpected but a nice change of pace from the casseroles.
9. I also would have loved anything homemade involving chocolate! Candy would have been a close second.
10. One day I came home to find the gift of a hand-knitted prayer/comfort shawl on my doorstep - that was a lovely surprise!

My guy friend is currently estranged from his only living close relative (his older sister) whom failed to contact him in any way during the painful period of his divorce. He finds her behavior unforgivable at this point.

11. All she needed to do was send him an email or call him with the message of "I'm thinking of you and am so sorry for what you are going through."

Today I am grateful:

1. That it is raining because it forces everyone to slow down a little.
2. That I have the day off from work.
3. For a day to catch up on laundry, knit a little and just be.
4. That we have had enough food to eat.
5. That we have health insurance (although it is costing a pretty penny).


  1. these are all great suggestions and ones that, unfortunately, come from experience. thank you for putting yourself out there about things like this. my life was vastly different. my Marine and i were as alone and isolated because of our financial difficulties as any two people can be, but we were a solid couple. when he died, i had only my two adult children. but i am blessed with them. no friends could have done more. but another adult that was not so vested in grief would have been a Godsend. my poor children and i could have used the help.

    as i said, all your suggestions are wonderful. i hope your weekend goes along quietly for you. take care and enjoy the rain and your day (and now night) off.

  2. What wonderful advice for those that know someone who is grieving. Thank you for giving us your insight. Sometimes we try so hard to help that it backfires completely.

    If you are interested, there is a new ebook by Miri Rossitto, the creator of on how to help grieving children. As a mother and a widow, it would be great to get your feedback on this book.
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