Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, lost her husband suddenly two years ago. She grieved his death. And, she wrote a book about grief. Sometimes it seems to me that the rich and famous think that they are the first ones to suffer, and that they have great wisdom to share from their suffering.
The truth is all of us regular people have suffered. We know grief, too, Ms. Sandberg. And, today, one of the families in my congregation is grieving their husband/father/grandfather's death.
Maybe I am no better than Sheryl Sandberg because I want to share one thing that I learned about grief when my mother died last summer. When the word got out that my mother had died, friends and acquaintances emailed or called me saying, "Let me know if there is anything I can do." Or, "If you need anything, let me know." Quite frankly, their intentions may have been good, but the offers felt empty.
I spoke to my spiritual director about this. She defended them saying that they meant well. I responded that I was already making lots of decisions (day and time of funeral; music for the funeral; menu for the lunch; travel plans to get to my home town, for starters) and when someone said, "let me know what I can do" it was one more decision for me to make. They were asking me to figure out what they could do for me, and then I had to take the next step and ask them. I simply couldn't make another decision.
But, I did know what I needed – I needed my yard mowed. The grass was tall; it needed mowing; and I was exhausted. I did not have the courage to ask someone to mow for me, because I wasn't really convinced that they were willing to do "anything," even though that is what they offered. And, so I ended up mowing – and being even more tired.
It reminded me of a story my mother told. When I was two years old and my brother was an infant, my mother's father died. Her neighbor, Dee Fagerly, came to her back door and said to my mother, "Betty, give me your laundry." My mother declined. Mrs. Fagerly would not take 'no' for an answer. She insisted on doing our family's laundry. And, it was what my mother remembered: someone did something for her and it made a difference.
If you know someone who is grieving, please do something. You can mow their lawn for them (or hire someone to do it if you don't like mowing.) You can sit for their pets if they go out of town for a funeral. Give them a gift card to a restaurant they like. Give them a gift card to a grocery store where they shop. Do their laundry – and no one needs to be embarrassed. If they have small children, sit with the children while they do errands. If relatives will be coming from out of town, dust and vacuum their main rooms for them – or again, hire someone to clean their house for them.
Whatever you do, please do not ask the grieving person to make one more decision. Simply do for them.