Death and Families How Should We Help?

Updated on January 24, 2009
L.A. asks from Kyle, TX
27 answers

In December I wrote about wanting to help our neighbor who was placed in the hospital with emotional issues. I am sorry to report she has died.
We as a neighborhood and a community want to support her family. We still have a small group of people as our main communicators with the dad. My question, how much should each of us as individuals should be going over to their house? We do not want to intrude, or be in their way, but we really all do want to help. How much is too much help?

They have children from 5 to 17. All of them must be in complete shock and we do not want to upset all of them any more. I just need suggestions. I do not know where to begin. Thank you for your suggestions.

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So What Happened?

Thank you for your suggestions. We do have a group of 3 people who are the communicators. They speak with the dad each day like an executive committee. He is also able to call on any of them at any time. They have divided the jobs up so that no one person will have too big of a responsibility. They set up a website, to keep us (many, many families) informed all day. Eventually once a day and I am sure eventually once a week and so on. The family will be provided meals through at least March. Others will be purchasing groceries many times a week and others helping with the children and dad in all sorts of ways.

We are all so heartbroken. This is all so sudden and unexpected, so we are all willing to do whatever is needed. I have passed along all of the suggestions we have received. They have great information and have helped to guide us.

The family does have a few family members that have come into town to assist for a while. The communicators are going to speak with them to let them know how we can help. They can also make requests and suggestions.

We need to all learn from this. Mental health is nothing to be ashamed of. We all have ups and downs, but if you feel hopeless remember that just letting others know you are in pain and they will find help for you. When you ask for help you are giving a gift to the person that you are asking. We all want to help and if we cannot, we can at least let the person know we will find someone that can help.

Thank you Mamas, you are an awesome resource. I have really felt your support and I promise we are really following through with your suggestions.

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S.T.

answers from Houston on

When a friend of mine was dying a year ago we used a free website to coordinate meals and babysitting. I think it was called helping hands or something like that. You could look at the calendar and see what days still needed meals and then click to volunteer for a meal and tell the coordinator which day you want. People who volunteered for babysitting also did basic house work and laundrey. He might not need a babysitter but he might need some help in the house. At 17, the oldest may be capable of taking up the slack but is still a kid and dealing with shock/trauma/grief.

Oh, here it is http://www.lotsahelpinghands.com/

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A.R.

answers from Albuquerque on

I'm a little late, but where we were living when Ray passed away, Hospice provided free counseling for children whose parents had passed away. It was group counseling, and sometimes is appropriate and sometimes a child needs a bit more one on one time. Another thing this father will be facing is life as an only parent rather than a single parent. Getting kids to and from activities and someone to help when school is out are huge needs. He will also need some time to grieve himself, and that is tough when you are trying to be stoic and tell the kids everything is ok. So some down time to be alone may be what he needs, or maybe he needs the bustle and activity that goes on in his world. Another thing that helps is time to talk about all the good times, because no matter what, those are pieces that will make him and the kids feel better later down the road. So an open ear is typically welcome.

There is a group called widownet.org that is the been there done that online support group that may be good for him.

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J.H.

answers from Houston on

You didn't say when she died. Was it early in December or just recently. Since you have a group leading the way, I'ed say they should have a heart to heart talk with the father and let him know that everyone wants to help but not butt in so he should let them know what he'ed appreciate then they could let everyone know. If it' taking food, helping clean house, help with yardwork, whatever..there needs to be some organization about it. After a few months, the family should be able to function on it's own.

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J.P.

answers from Houston on

L., I remember your first request to help your
neighbor. Thank you for showing us in Mammsource Land
how to be a good neighbor and example of compassion.
I lost my mother unexpectedly at age 11. I was one of
5 kids, all 1 year apart..10, 11, 12, 13, 14.
We were not encourage to talk about our loss and it still
affects me today. I am 57 now and wish I had written
down all the things about her that I wanted to remember,
things she wanted for me, her favorite color, perfume,
flower, and so forth.
I have written at least 50 things I wished I could remember
so that I could help someone grasp their memories while
still fresh. I have very little memory of her and she deserved more. She was a wonderful mother that I can remember. I think keeping her memory alive would be
something awesome for everybody, and the deceased. Her
life mattered. The list should contain mostly, if not
all, positive statements. The negative ones are the ones
we want to forget. Good luck.

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L.G.

answers from Corpus Christi on

L.,

God bless you for reaching out to this family. I was there 10 years ago, my husband passed away suddenly.

Meals, yes, I agree with the others, every other day is great, and continuing, tapering off, for as long as you can. As I said before, take one or two of the kids, let them talk, if they want but don't pry.

Dad may also need some adult time to talk, I know its hard but maybe a man in the neighborhood could make himself available.

I agree also that maybe one or two people can take the lead and let everyone else know what the family needs.

As bad as it sounds the family may feel some relief, living with mental illness is a struggle in its own, they may feel guilty for feeling relief. Let them know its ok to feel whatever they feel.

I found the hardest part is after the funeral, everyone else goes back to their lives, if you can continue to be there for them for months or longer.

If there are daughters they have specials needs. Kids identify with their same sex parent. Spend extra time with the girls, model for them what a woman/mother who is not suffering from mental illness acts like.

Best of all talk with dad on a regular basis and really listen. He may say something that gives hints as to what they need.

Give the kids cooking lessons, make it fun, but simple meals, spaghetti, sloppy joes, etc. Let them know its ok to laugh and have fun.

Check monthly to see if anyone needs help with homework. An extra pair of hands doing anything lifts the burden off dad and the oldest child. My oldest carried the burden of the responsibility even though I tried to not let him.

The oldest child may be graduating soon, a friend took mine and helped with all of the college details, what a blessing. He took him to visit different colleges, kept up with deadlines, etc.

Whatever each neighbors strength is, let them use it here. If one loves to play tennis they can offer to take one or two kids and teach them.

Hope this helps. Feel free to contact me if you have further questions.

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L.B.

answers from Boston on

Hi L.,
I can address this coming from the side of widow/er. I lost my husband (at age 39) 7 yrs ago. Our children were 6, 8 and 10 respectively.
The initial bombardment of help and care was overwhelming. First off, we both came from large families but also I worked at the time in the public school so there were friends, coworkers, school parents etc coming to care and help.
People would offer to babysit but I was in a state of worry that if they were out of my sight, something would happen to them too. Its a normal stage you go through.
So as not to overwhelm us, someone brought dinner to the house 2 times during the weekday and once during the weekend. Some gave us gift certs. to restaurants so we could go out as a family. This went on for 6 months.
As the months went by the help began to slowly fade away as other moved on in their own lives.
We found a wonderful group to be a part of called "The Circle" which is a support group for those grieving.

The 2nd year can be just as grief filled as the year of facing all the firsts without you partner in life by your side. The 2nd yr. brings about that unbelievable thought that this is forever and you have to do it all over again and again. I was very grateful to my friends who continued to be there to help with kid transporting for sports and events, a shoulder to cry on and a ear to listen. When I hit bumps in the road with finances, I had a friend anonymously put grocery store certificates in my mailbox.

If you are a good friend to this man. Just be there through the tears, through the disbelief that she is gone and the anger that will arise from the loss itself for more than just the first 6 months. I'm 7 yrs out now and every so often (especially during the anniversary month) I need a little extra TLC from my friends.

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M.S.

answers from Houston on

Hi L.,

I, too, am in shock. I am truly sorry for the loss of your neighbor and for their family. You have received great advice from these wonderful "Mammas" but I just wanted to say that I will be keeping this family in my prayers during this sad time.
One poster mentioned www.carecalendar.org
This is a GREAT website. It's a great way to keep everyone informed and to update, ask for anything needed, etc.
God Bless,
M.

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K.N.

answers from Austin on

Can you approach the husband, maybe with another neighbor or with you husband and ask how you can help. I'd go over with ideas of ways to offer because he might not be able to think beyond the immediate demands facing him. He must feel overwhelmed. Maybe he needs some greif counselors for the children... Maybe someone can help him find one if he supplies his health insurance info? Maybe he needs help watching the younger children on the weekends/evenings? Maybe some help lining up summer camp or summar activities for the kids, since all that planning and reservations start months before May. Maybe the neighbors can pick up extra toiletries or groceries whenever at Costco or the grocery store, or call beforehend to see if he needs anything? Maybe someone has a maid who the husband might want to hire once or twice a month? Maybe in a few months, he might appreciate someone boxing up the clothes in her closet... Not to get rid of (they will decide when its time for that...) Just to help box them for storage?

Just some ideas... But of course, if he declines, respect it.

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C.S.

answers from Houston on

Hi L.,

I would organize a group of people to cook meals. If it is done every other day it won't overwhelm the family. On the days where no one cooks, they can probably eat leftovers. Believe me, it will be greatly appreciated. One or two people should also talk to the father and see what his needs are for his children. God bless you for doing this.

Peace,
C.

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A.S.

answers from Austin on

Yes, offer to cook meals, clean, sit with kids. Don't ask, just say "We've made up a schedule to bring you your dinners and Jane will be taking the kids on Friday."

Just offer to be there to listen and be supportive.

How lucky your friends are to have you.

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D.M.

answers from Austin on

I remember this event, this is truly tragic as so many children and now a family is is mourning and a Dad is left with all the responsibility of all the children on his own. Just terrible.
As a community bringing food like at the holidays is always still a good thing, and now I'd say looking up resources (maybe grieving groups that the family could attend in your area would be a great help to the Father as well as financial assistance information if needed to help with the children's needs (clothing, rent,and utilities) Knowledge is power and since this is such a horrible shocking time, I'm sure anything would be greatly appreciated.

Best Wishes and hats off too you and your community for helping one another.

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C.L.

answers from San Antonio on

I would get all ideas together and send over an emissary to see what the dad would like. You could have a team of people who are ready to perform various household tasks so that dad doesn't have to worry about that stuff and can spend all his time with the kids. Some ideas would be cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, laundry, and maybe a once a week babysitting so the dad can have some time alone with his grief. Put all the suggestions down, pick the fellow your neighbor is closest to and have him sit down with your neighbor and go over the list. Whatever tasks he is comfortable having help with, you divide up among the people willing to help. The most important thing is to continue keeping the help up until he says to stop. You won't be enabling him and grief often takes longer to heal from then we think it should, so don't take away the support too early. Just remember that when you do these things it gives him more time to reconnect with his children and that's what's going to help them all heal from this devastating loss.

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J.C.

answers from San Antonio on

Having recently experienced more deaths than I care to count, my best advice is to stretch out your help for as long as possible. As hard as the grief is right now, I can tell you that more is to come. One of the hardest realizations is that the rest of the world has moved on, and the griever is still stuck in that same emotional state.

Not to burden those who want to help, but if you can cook meals, or help out other ways more than just 2 weeks, or even 1 month you would really be helping out this family. The longer you are "present" the more helpful you will be as time passes.

Thank you to you and everyone who wants to minister to this family. You are a huge blessing to them and you will be blessed beyond measure for your kindness.

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B.M.

answers from Pittsburgh on

My brother-in-law died 6 years ago. We found a wonderful grief camp for the children to go to. They hold weekend camps much luck church camps. They pair each child with a big buddy for the weekend. Along with the camp fun they also have healing circle time which is grief counciling. They break the children up in age groupings. There is no charge to attend the camp and they also provide transportation to the family to get there. The original camp is located in Richmond, Va, but they now have one in NJ and I think in CA.

The co-founder of this camp lost both of her parents at a very young age and saw a need for this kind of support for children. She has writen a book and you can order it from their website and also find other information about the camp at http://comfortzonecamp.org/ Although the book is written for children I read it and found it wonderful in explaining how people feel dealing with grief. It might help you help them.

I think it is wonderful that you and your neighbors are there for this family.

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M.T.

answers from Austin on

Something we do in our Sunday school is a few days a week someone takes a meal over to the family in need. You do however want to find out what the father needs. We do have one couple that had a hard time excepting any charity and really didn't want a lot of people coming over. Whoever is closest with the father should go and talk to him. Let him know you all want to help but want to make sure that yall aren't stepping over any lines. We have also done coupons that we gave to the parent. Ex: "I'll pick up your children from school" or "watch them one night so you can have time for yourself." He's probably feeling as though he needs to be strong for the children but really needs help. He's going to need his own time to grieve but is probably feeling overwhelmed with everything. I'm sorry to hear about your friend and I'll pray for you and the family and friends.

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D.R.

answers from Austin on

Hi L.,

It's me, D.. I am so sorry about your neighbor. I have not read your other responses so I hope I am not repeating anyone.

Last year in a similar situation we put a large cooler on the family's front porch. Then we all made a schedule of meals. The family could get the meal, put the dishes back in to be picked up (most of us used disposable dishes to make it easier for them). There is a wonderful site called care calendar.org which makes the meal schedule available for everyone and lets them sign up for a day without overlap. There is a section where you can update everyone about how they are doing or if they want visitors or not.

We also made cards and wrote loving letters for the kids. I bought some cuddly stuffed animals for the younger kids to snuggle. Right now I'm sure they are quite numb. Be sure and stay in touch as time goes by.

You are a great neighbor. Know that your care and contact does not upset them. Or if you say, "I do not want to intrude, but I am here for you". Then check back once or twice a week.

I look forward to visiting with you at the end of the month, L..

Love,
D.

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J.T.

answers from Victoria on

Might I suggest that you stand at the door with a cassarole dinner. Tell them you are just droping it off and they can freeze it. Also putting you name and address on the bottom of the dish will let you hopefully get it back. If you can find disposables that would be better for them. Always stating if you need anything your here for them. Also asking the father if he needs a free baby sitter for a few hours for the younger ones your willing to take them to the park or something fun. Little ones need a break from seeing dad morn. God bless you.

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R.L.

answers from Los Angeles on

One thing I have done before is I committed one year to a family and took on the birthdays for the year. I cordinated a date and time for each family member and droped off paper plates, napkins, table cloth, cake and gifts for the individual. I had church members and friends help out with the gift giving some times. This took the pressure off the parent that was struggling financially and emotionally. Everyone in the family still had a day that they could forget and enjoy their own special day. This way nobody's birthday went unnoticed.

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L.K.

answers from San Antonio on

L., I'm in shock. I was hoping to read an updated post from you that contained good news. I am so sorry for your loss. As I mentioned before, this family is blessed to have you and the rest of your neighbors for friends. We should all be so blessed.
I would once again suggest what I originally did. Step in to make sure that all the children are helping to pull themselves together, at least, physically. By that, I mean, chores, hygiene, and homework mostly. You do not mention if any family members are coming to visit or stay with the family or not. Speak w/ the dad about this and get the name of a family contact person who might be sticking around for a few days. It may be better to organize the neighborhood help through this family member if there is one, otherwise, organize it with the dad.
Also, if they are members of a church, there might be a ministry within that church that does the same type of thing you and your neighbors want to do. You may want to contact someone there for tag-teaming your outreach. I like the idea of the one mom that suggested contacting the school for any help that the children may need concerning their studies. Having the grieving children over to do homework with same aged children from the neighbor is also an excellent idea. The dad will be overwhelmed at this point and would have a heck of a time monitoring all of his children's academic needs. If you meet any of the dad's friends, or family, or spiritual director speak with them about keeping in touch with him and providing emotional support for him.
A very dear friend of mine died of a very aggressive cancer a few years ago. Within the same year, her eldest son was killed. Her widower was a very proud and private man but, had it not been for all his family, friends, and church network, he would have fallen apart. He wanted privacy but needed help. He still had one younger son to care for and their two older married daughters were also grieving. Just try to balance the help with his private grieving as much as you can. As time passes, he will be able to accept everyone's help more graciously if he is anything like my friend's husband. My friend now realizes how blessed he is to have had us around during that difficult time.
I can't think of anything else right now. I will write again if I do.
God bless you and all your efforts. Once again, my prayers will be with you. One last note, this is a big undertaking. Be advised that sometimes along with all the good intentions, egos sometimes get in the way of progress. Some people, for whatever reason, want to be the "star" friend. Be cautious, and aware of this. Try to be diplomatic with everyone and remind others that all action should be for the good of the family. I will pray for smooth sailing. God will guide your efforts.
Much love and admiration,
L. K

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K.B.

answers from Houston on

Hi L.-

All of these are great suggestions for helping the family with their needs. If you and your neighbors are looking for something special to do for them, when we had a death in our neighborhood several of the neighbors contributed to have a tree planted in memory of our friend and we had a large rock with a plaque placed at the base of the tree with an inscription. Our neighbor lived on a culdesac with a treed area in the center so that is where we placed his tree.

Best of luck to you and your neighbor,
K.

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D.B.

answers from Houston on

I applaud your compassion, L., and your willingness to act on behalf of the dad and his children. Call Bo's Place in Houston and ask for a referral to a similar group in your area. They offer bereavement groups and outings for children that have lost a parent and for surviving family members ###-###-####, www.bosplace.org.
Being an intrusion is actually a lifesaver most of the time. 13yrs ago, when my sister died suddenly, I intruded with my brother-in-law, supported him to grieve & get on with life, helped co-raise my niece, who was 4, and invited others around the family to step in as they wanted. It made a huge difference, both for him and for my niece. Another resource I used was to have my niece do some play therapy with a counselor for a time and to allow her to express herself through art (drawing, painting, making crafts from found objects, etc).

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L.R.

answers from Chicago on

May God help you and your dear family at this time of sorrow.

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C.A.

answers from Austin on

L.,
I wanted to let you know about a grief support group that I am a part of at Hill Country Bible Church NW. It is called "Griefshare." It is a wonderful support to those that have lost loved ones. We meet Wednesday nights from 7-9 at the church which is off of 620. Not only can people find others that are going through similar circumstances, but each night, we watch a video made by counselors that addresses all the different issues and struggles those grieving may go through. You can get more info at www.griefshare.com. We have a group for teens (ages 12-17, I believe) as well. It sounds like this family is so blessed to have you and your neighbors during this time.

Blessings!
C. A.

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S.M.

answers from San Antonio on

My advice would be to take turns bringing meals to their house, so that the dad doesn't have to worry about cooking for himself and the kids. I would do that for a few weeks if you have enough resources available. Maybe offer some child care in case he is overwhelmed with trying to work., and watch kids. Maybe give him a little time to himself. Men often need that just as much as women do. But the meals will go a long way in showing your support as a community.

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K.O.

answers from Austin on

In our church we operate a "relief society" that would loving step in and provide meals for at least a couple weeks while the family is in shock. We pass around a sign up sheet so everyone can coordinate a day that's best for them. The dad isn't going to want to ask for anything so being a mom you can feel out the situation and see needs they might have. It could be very simple gestures of love that will make all the difference to them right now knowing that they are not completely alone. (Homemade applepie and icecream dropped off, offering to take home a load of laundry and wash it)

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D.A.

answers from Houston on

Oh, L., I am so sorry to hear that your neighbor died. My first thought goes to the kids and school starting today. They will have a very difficult time concentrating. Perhaps one of the neighbors could offer to contact teachers for the dad. Dad will find it difficult to concentrate too so homework will be a challenge for all right now. Perhaps neighbors with kids the same age could offer to help with homework. Make the offer and let them come to you. As I said before, the small things will seem overwhelming for a while. Make a call as you head out for the grocery store and offer to pick up a few things or take a kid with you for a haircut, etc. You have already been a blessing to this family through the holidays. Just continue to do as you have been and you will help them through this rough time.

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L.M.

answers from Kansas City on

Hi, I don't know if anyone else mentioned this, but the Solace House located on State Line Rd. is an excellent rescource for all ages. There fee is based on donations.

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