“Questions and Answers,” Ensign, June 2005, 12–15
My friend’s father passed away recently. I’d like to help my friend, but I don’t know how. What should I do?
After my husband died, a lot of people asked me how they could help. My standard answer was, “I don’t need help right now.” I really did need help; I just didn’t want to bother anyone. The best help I received was from friends who kept their eyes open for a need they could fill and from members of my ward who stopped by unannounced with gifts, cards, loving wishes, even just a loaf of bread or plate of cookies.
Remember that everyone handles grief in different ways. Some don’t want to be left alone. If that’s the case, drop by often for a visit. Others want to be away from home and kept busy. Consider asking them to accompany you on a trip to the store or a restaurant, or invite them to your home for dinner every now and then. Others may truly want to stay home and be left alone. Be sensitive to their wishes, but keep checking in on them and keep a watch over them.
Christine S. Owens, Wilford Second Ward, St. Anthony Idaho Stake
In the face of such sorrow, we may want to reassure the bereaved that all will be well in the end. Though these comments are kindly meant, some can be hurtful. For example, a sweet sister may say, “It’s all right; you’re sealed as a family.” The child thinks, “But how am I going to get through the next 60 years?” The widow thinks, “How will I survive this week?” Other well-meaning people may say, “It’s all right; you’ll have more children.” The parent thinks, “Yes, but I won’t see this darling child again in this life!” No child can be replaced, no matter how many children a parent has.
A sorrowing soul receives love with gladness. To respond with love, simply say, “I’m sorry.” Hold a hand or give a hug if appropriate. Loving comments lift the burden: “You’re in my prayers.” “Let me do your laundry … run the vacuum … clean your bathroom.” “I’m bringing you dinner tomorrow.” Send a card or take flowers. These gestures bring balm to the saddened soul.
Susan S. Fox, Brentwood Second Ward, Antioch California Stake
Don’t say, “I understand how you feel,” or anything that begins with, “Well, at least …” Do share happy experiences you have had with the departed. Any little anecdotes are usually greatly appreciated.
Faye Johnson, Connersville Ward, Muncie Indiana Stake
If your friend is a member of the Church, know that the gospel gives us answers and hope, but it doesn’t remove the grieving process. Help your friend see that while more hope and peace can be found in the Lord’s plan than anywhere else, we still have to accept the pain of loss and allow ourselves time to heal.
Karen J. Gale, Mesa Hills Ward, Cedar City Utah West Stake
Ask your friend if you can make the telephone calls to share the news of his or her loss with appropriate people so they can offer condolences and support. Your friend will want others to know but may not be ready to get on the telephone to share the information.
Julia Holton Todd, Worthington Ward, Columbus Ohio North Stake
An experience a few years ago taught me a valuable lesson. A woman in my ward named Rebecca was expecting her fourth child. A few weeks before the delivery, she learned the baby had died. No one in the ward knew until the baby was born, and everyone was reeling in shock at the news. My husband told me I should visit Rebecca. Losing a child was my ultimate fear, and I couldn’t deal with her grief, let alone my own. So I didn’t do anything.
My mother, who was also in the ward, made a loaf of bread and went to visit Rebecca. But my mother later told me, “I wish I hadn’t gone. I just made it worse. I sat on her couch and cried the whole time.” I felt a little better about not visiting.
About a year later, at a ward party in the park, I happened to be sitting at the same table as Rebecca and a new sister in the ward. The new sister had also lost a baby, and I could hear them talking. Rebecca said, “The hardest thing for me was that almost no one did anything.”
I was overcome with guilt. I slid down the bench and said to Rebecca, “I was one of those who didn’t do anything. I just didn’t know what to do.”
Rebecca was forgiving, but she answered, “Well, no one did except your mom. She came over and we had a good cry together!”
My point is: do something! Just be there. Follow the Spirit and let your friend know you care, even if you think your efforts are inadequate. It’s nice to make brownies or bread or even dinner, but sometimes all they need is you.
Julie Deschamps, Payson 14th Ward, Payson Utah Stake
You may feel your friend needs to be reminded of or taught the doctrine of Christ. But you cannot force this. Despite how deeply you wish to share, the best thing to do is offer your friendship and a listening ear and then to follow the Spirit. Your effectiveness in helping your friend will be directly tied to your ability to feel and follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
James Garner, Carter Hill Ward, Montgomery Alabama Stake
Real grief for me has always come six weeks or more after a loved one dies. You walk in rooms or pick up the telephone and then remember that person is no longer there. By then, the sympathy cards have come and gone, the telephone calls have ceased, and you are just lonely. That is the time when cards, telephone calls, and invitations to activities are most appreciated.
Laura Church, Moorestown Ward, Cherry Hill New Jersey Stake
When my best friend’s father passed away, I organized a special fast among our friends. Together we fasted and prayed for our grieving friend and her family members. We had a special dinner to break our fast together and invited our mourning friend, who found comfort in the caring and companionship of others.
Diana Janson, Rexburg Fifth Ward, Rexburg Idaho Center Stake
Don’t expect your friend’s life to be “back to normal” soon. Your friend will grapple with the reality of his or her father’s death for several months, even years. Be patient with this timetable.
After some time has passed, consider inviting your friend to social events. But don’t get offended if he or she rejects your invitations. Socializing after the death of a loved one can be uncomfortable. However, your efforts for inclusion will be an indication of your love for your friend. Invite him or her to activities that don’t require a lot of social interaction, such as watching a movie or attending a play or musical performance. This can provide a needed diversion without requiring an explanation of your friend’s somber mood to others. Initially, the smaller the group, the easier this transition will be.
Sharalyn Duffin, Salt Lake University 31st Ward, Salt Lake University Second Stake
The first year is the hardest, because it is the first year of Easter egg hunts, Christmas morning, and other special events without Dad. Be extra sensitive to your friend’s needs around Father’s Day and the anniversary of the death. Be proactive in checking up on your friend.
Wendi Dunford, Montpelier Ward, Montpelier Vermont Stake
If appropriate, consider asking friends and family to write down memories of your friend’s dad or to donate photographs if they have them. Create a memoir for your friend.
I appreciated it when friends wrote me cards and referenced scriptures that gave them comfort. It helped when they shared how they had dealt with tragedy in their own lives.
Brooke Mellen, Manhattan Third Ward, New York New York Stake
What helped me the most was when others would listen. Being a good listener means focusing on your friend rather than telling your own story. It means understanding if your friend wants to keep some memories private. Your friend will probably appreciate this more than any advice you can give.
Steven T. McMaster, Rochester Third Ward, Rochester Minnesota Stake
One day a friend brought me a “bleeding heart” bush along with some other plants to put in my yard in memory of my dad. She then helped me weed the flower bed so there would be room for the plants. Every time I see the bush in my backyard, I think of my dad, and I also think of my dear friend who went out of her way to help me at a difficult time.
Ramona Pixton, Canyon Creek Ward, Tooele Utah Valley View Stake
When some time had passed after my baby died, I appreciated being asked to help others. Even something as simple as a five-minute phone call from another mom asking for simple parenting advice could brighten my day. I enjoyed being asked to take a meal to another family or to help with a Relief Society enrichment night. Service is a balm to my soul and helps me deal with the cycles of depression that are common after the death of a loved one.
Janille Stearmer, Bonneville Second Ward, Provo Utah Bonneville Stake
What should you say to someone who has lost a family member to suicide? You say and do the same kind, comforting things you would to someone who lost a family member to cancer, to an accident, to a peaceful passing in their sleep.
After the funeral services for my father, who had committed suicide, a number of people pulled me aside to tell me warm memories about my father. This brought a smile and even an occasional chuckle in the midst of a grueling time for our family.
Unfortunately, there were also those who felt the need to say that what my father had done was a sin. I didn’t need to hear that; I was already worrying about the implications of my father’s actions. Thank goodness for a friend who pointed out these words of Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “It should … be remembered that judgment is the Lord’s; he knows the thoughts, intents, and abilities of men; and he in his infinite wisdom will make all things right in due course.”1
Kind words go a long way for someone whose life has been twisted by the ugly circumstances of suicide. Staying away because you don’t know how to react helps no one and actually causes more pain. Condolences and acts of service shouldn’t be based on the manner in which someone died. Offer your heart without hesitation.
Kelly Lynette Drake, Highlands Ranch Ward, Highlands Ranch Colorado Stake