Colleague Died - How to Help

Updated on May 21, 2011
A.W. asks from Vienna, VA
19 answers

I am so sad - I just found out that a really nice woman at work died this morning. She found out last week she had Stage 4 lung and bone cancer (the only symptom was a backache!), it progressed quickly, and they turned off life support this morning. The worst part is that she had two little kids (5 and 8). Her husband is managing, but just barely. I don't know what to do to help. I didn't know her that well (just conversations in the hall about kids, etc.), and I have never met her husband. I really do want to help if there is ANYTHING I can do - take the kids to school, make food, walk the dogs, ANYTHING - but I also don't want to intrude. I asked her friend to let me know if they need anything. Should I do anything else at this point? Bring food even if they don't ask for it, just to show support? This is awful.

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So What Happened?

Thank you all so much for the ideas. I spoke with her friend again, and she said the husband is just overwhelmed with people offering to help right now. Right now his focus is on the kids, and he wants to be sure they are with people they know well. He's also stressed out about insurance and other paperwork, so I'm going to do what I can to help with that (I'm a lawyer). In a couple of weeks we'll check back to see if he needs food, errands or anything else. I really liked the idea of making a list of things we can do and phone numbers of people willing to do them. Also the housekeeping service and the meals in disposable containers with heating instructions on top, and the gift cards and grocery runs. Thank you all.

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answers from Washington DC on

You are sweet to want to help; they'll need it! The husband could probably benefit from a little book called "Healing After Loss." They may be inundated with meals right now, but sympathy will die down, so you may want to wait and take a meal in a few weeks or so. Sometimes it is best to call and say "I'm free this morning; could I come clean, take the kids to school, need anything from the store...." In other words, just offer something concrete; people hesitate to ask, even if you'd said to. Hope this helps.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

I know I am late on this, but possibly starting a college fund for the girls. He is going to have to try to make things work financially on one income now. It's hard enough with 2 incomes, but to loose one suddenly is tough. I know the girls are young, but that's actually better, the interest will build up over a longer period of time.

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Dover on

Food is a good idea, but you know what's even better than that...? Food when they actually need it, like in a month or 2 once everyone else has already shown their support & started to fall away. That seems to be about the time frame that people move on with their own lives & those still in mourning are left on their own. Right now they probably have more casseroles than they have freezer space for, plus I doubt they have much in the way of appetite for anything other than what his wife/their mother would have made for them.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Modesto on

Since you dont know the husband it's hard to get personal. I'd rally the workplace for gift certificates/cash and their ideas as a group and maybe a list of phone numbers of those who want to help the dad, and just send it to him or give it to him if you attend the service. He will be overwhelmed already with family and personal friends barraging him, not a good time for him to have to deal with people that he doesnt really know.
Your heart is in the right place.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Tampa on

Knowing someone you like died is hard... but knowing she was a Mom to young children would be just devastating to me... I can only imagine the extreme pain and grief her family is going thru!

You are a very caring person to want to help someone else's family whom you never met. I would go to her close friend again, and let her know you sincerely want to help the co-worker's family in whatever way you can in this time of transition... she may have taken your offers of help as "It's what everyone does but never follows thru with" grain of salt.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

I would ask around to see if anyone else knows the family a little better and see how much family support they have in the area. I would suggest if you want to drop off food I would put it in a disposable cooler and just leave it at their house with a simple note.

It is always hard when these type of things happen in your life- regardless of how closely you are related to the person, but every family grieves differently. I would try and find someone else at your work knew her better and see if they can help you focus your energy to help!

Hug your own kids and husband tonight!!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Albuquerque on

Bring a full dinner - even if they don't ask for it. Put it in disposable dishes so they have nothing to return - and include disposable serving spoons too so all the husband has to do is pop it in the oven and put it on the table.

When my father died (I was 24), the lovely meals people brought over were so helpful because that was one less thing my mom had to think about. One woman brought over these huge aluminum catering sized pans - one with lemon chicken, another with rice pilaf, a third with salad, and on top of each she had written out directions for how to heat it up or finish it. Then she included little baggies of extras - croutons for the salad, chopped scallions to make the rice pilaf look pretty, extra lemon wedges for the chicken. It was so yummy, but also so nice to look at. And as silly as it sounds, having a really nice meal that looked like it came from a restaurant cheered all of us up.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Charlotte on


2 moms found this helpful


answers from Milwaukee on

You can put together a nice card and collect money from work... or you can say you are putting together a care package of gift cards and collecting for it. Put in gift cards to the grocery store, restaurants, target (or similar stores), maybe if there is a place that makes pre-made meals a gift card to that place.

This way the husband can use those items when he feels it is needed instead of worrying about room in the fridge or freezer for yet another meal (yes the meals are appreciated BUT if he or his side has family/good friends in the area that fridge is stocked already and is stressful getting it from someone you are not familiar with).

You mentioned that you already told the friend you are there if needed. Right now those kids and him want familiar people around, so give them space and trust that the friend will call if needed. The gift card gift basket might be the best thing you can do right now.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Miami on

Go to the funeral. You may find out more of what they need there or at least be able to speak with friends / religous leader about what they need. Contact hospice on their behalf and get some information that you can pass along to the dad. Even if the woman wasn't in hospice, they offer grief counseling to anyone for up to one year after the death. Find out if there are local grief counseling options in the area (I'm from Alexandria so I am certain that there are lots of options near Vienna). The family is probably in shock so they don't know what they need yet but I agree that some gift certificates for house cleaning (complete with laundry service) is a great idea. The other thing he will need is a phone tree of potential baby sitters. Type up a listing of people who are volunteering along with their usual availability and then pass it to the father or other close relative. It might be a good idea to give the baby sitter list to them in a week or so.

Pray for them. They are going to need it. Bless you for helping. C.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

I think that bringing over some frozen homemade cassaroles or some gift cards for your local restaurants would be a good start. I would also suggest taking up a collection at work that the husband can use for a housecleaning and/or gardening service if he needs it. Offering to babysit her children or including them in on playdates may also be good as it will give the husband time to do some of the things he needs to do without the children around and will get them out of the house and into a new environment every once in a while.

I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for being such a kind hearted soul.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Gainesville on

Wow that is awful. I would try to keep in the loop as to what the family needs.. Is there a fund you can donate to that will help thefamily. You could go to the funeral & offer your help there. I'm sorry i don't have any great answer..

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answers from Richmond on

pick up the phone and call this guy, he is going to need all the help he can get, alot of the time, when things like this happens to you, the last thing you want to do is pick up the phone yourself and call somebody and say"can you help me, i completely forgot to pick up the drycleaning last week, my great dane just puked on the rug and the kids need someone to go with them to buy some nice shoes for the funeral", sounds complicated, huh? now imagine
this guy knowing all these things are going to have to get done TODAY
K. h.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

Food is a great idea, as the kids still need to eat.. That said, don't ask what they need or want, simply just do something. I found that when people are in a state of shock and grief, to think of what they need at that moment is very difficult.. Don't leave the person with that burden.. if you live close, why not make up a batch of lasagne (they can always freeze it if need be) or even some baked goods.. Additionally, you can do some gardening for them... also, yes, write a card and in it, state you would love to babysit the kids if need be.. Also, even if your friend's husband declines anything now, check back in a couple months.. right now, he is busy trying to get everything together for a funeral and deal with his kids emotionally.. the next few months, let alone year will be trying for him.. I have found that once someone dies, people are around in the beginning but seem to drop off after a month or two.... check in with the guy and his kids in a couple of months.. the first holidays will be the most difficult... send a gift or two at Christmas (if they celebrate) .. bake a pie or something for Thanksgiving.. check back to see if maybe he does need a sitter... believe me, those things count.. people like to know they are thought of ... and the kids, maybe if you get to know them better... perhaps they can do a playdate at the park with your kids.. assuming they might be close in age..

I wish them and you the best..



answers from Washington DC on

You are on the right track, I would start with bringing food to the family and extend my services after that. Give him and the children some space they are going to need it. However I would check on them every so often just so they know that you are available.



answers from Eau Claire on

I would buy them a couple gift cards from restaurants with take out and send those a nice card with the offer to help if he needs anything.



answers from San Diego on

I would bring food, and let the husband know that if there is anything that he needs that you are there for him. Ask him if he needs anything. Other than that your contribution is greatly appreciated and the fact that you care means a lot to him and family i'm sure.



answers from Washington DC on

Suggestion: Call him and tell him you are emailing friends and arranging for meals to be brought to them for a while. Ask him what week he would like to start (he may want to wait until things settle down) and how many days per week, such as 3x/week or 4x/week. Also, with summer coming he may need help with childcare or just fun outings for the kids if they are in daycare.



answers from Cumberland on

It's always nice to take prepared food-but other things like water, juice, eggs, bread, laundry detergent, etc are also helpfull-you know-stuff you run out of. When my ex husband dies-and there were dozens of kids coming over-we needed beverages to serve and food-lots of food!

I'm sorry for your loss-and for the children left without a mother.

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