Romantics will tell you that fresh flowers are perfect objects of condolence because they symbolize the beauty and brevity of life; allergics will tell you that they would prefer their sniffles and tears at a funeral to be from grief. Whichever position you hold, I hope you’ll agree with me that fresh flowers can cost a lot for the amount of time they last.
When the deceased was well known, a grieving family may receive so many flowers that they hardly notice the particular arrangement you lovingly selected. Often, other means of condolence can be better appreciated and less expensive than fresh flowers.
For those who want to stick close to tradition, consider sending a potted plant from your own garden in a basket or pot from a thrift shop; grieving family members can transplant your gift into their own yard and have a lasting memorial to their loved one.
Making a donation to charity is becoming more common; many obituaries will suggest a favored charity to receive gifts in lieu of flowers. If no charity is suggested, be sure to choose one the deceased would appreciate; don’t give to PETA if his favorite meal was surf and turf or donate to a church if she was an atheist.
Consider housesitting during the funeral, particularly if you did not know the deceased well but are close to a family member. Sometimes homes of grievers are targets for burglars who browse the obituaries looking for names of family members and funeral times.
Likewise, many families could use babysitting services. Families with children too small to attend the funeral would greatly appreciate having someone they know to stay with the young ones so that everyone else can attend. If you plan to attend the funeral yourself, offer to take the kids away for a few hours while the adults make funeral arrangements.
Write a letter telling the family how much you appreciated the person who died; a letter works well when you were closer to the deceased than to his family. Tell stories about their loved one that they might not have heard; recall fond memories so that they have an opportunity to smile during a sad time.
Alternately, create a photo collage of the deceased, possibly to display at the meal time for the funeral. A collage gives mourners something to gather near and often sparks memories for those who see it.
Cook a meal for the family. If you don’t cook well, consider putting together a tray of lunch meat (assuming they are not vegetarians) so that the family and those who visit during the days following the death have something to prepare easily when they get hungry. (Food is often the last thing on their minds.)
Offer to do laundry or run errands that need to be done while the family is planning the funeral or managing details of the estate. One fewer thing on a to-do list can be a big relief for someone who is grieving.
Offer correspondence services. If you know the family well, offer to make a list of names and addresses of everyone who sent condolences, to make calls to far-away friends and relatives who might not have heard about the death, or even to answer their incoming calls for a while so they can rest.
Stick around. Mourners often say that the hardest time is after the funeral, when all the commotion has died down and they are left alone. Be sure to check in on a friend who has lost a loved one several weeks and months after the funeral. Call or send cards each month saying, “You’re still in my thoughts and prayers,” or make a point to schedule more frequent visits if your friend now lives alone.
Remember, each person mourns differently. Know the person you are trying to comfort and offer what will be most appreciated. Some will want to talk; others will need some space. If you’re not sure what to do, consider asking your friend how you can best help him or her get through the difficult grieving process.
Image courtesy of the underlord