In what was supposed to be the happiest month of all year, December, I got the news that my mom, sister, and father tested positive for Covid-19. In a matter of days, my dad was hospitalized and passed away. I lost my father, my hero, my knight in shining armor...my everything. I also lost a part of me.
What made the whole situation more difficult was that we could not be there for each other under Covid rules and guidelines, which meant, my father was alone without family members when he died, I could not mourn the loss of my father with my family in person because they too were Covid positive and I was in another state, and it'll take weeks before we can get his ashes to have some type of closure. (At the time of this writing it has been 3 weeks since my father died). Though we did have a virtual service and it helped a lot, it does not replace the feeling of giving someone a hug.
I know that I am not alone and thousands of people have also lost loved ones due to this nasty virus. I can tell you that I personally know close friends that have also lost either one or two parents or loved ones and all living in different states due to Coronavirus. Some passed away in a matter of days like my father, others after months of battle. Either way, losing someone you love to Covid-19 is brutal, gut wrenching, and may be harder than any other loss you may ever experience. I tell you this after having lost one of my sisters tragically and suddenly years ago. This was and continues to be way harder on so many levels.
That being said, as hard as it has been and continues to be, I wanted to share with you all the things that have helped me over the past weeks. I'm no where near "moving on," "getting over," or "turning the page," but I am slowly, and I mean slowly, getting better. A lot of it has been because of the support of friends and family members. If you have a friend or family member that has suffered loss perhaps this guide can help you. If you yourself are grieving perhaps you can find comfort in my words.
7 Ways to Help a Friend or Loved One Who Is Grieving
1) Wait to call.
It's easy to want to call your friend or loved one as soon as you hear the news that their loved one has passed away. Understand that there is a flood of emotions that they are trying to comprehend themselves and when they have to share the news over and over again, all of these emotions come flooding back. When my dad died, I was the designated person for the hospital to call for any change. I was literally sitting on the toilet when the hospital called to give me the news that my father passed away. In retrospect, I am glad that I was alone away from my 5 year old daughter as I was able to sit by myself and let it all sink in. I then had the daunting task to let my sister who was with my mom, and brother know and then relive everything every time someone called. It was very painful. It's ok to wait 1-3 days.
2) Be a good listener and don't ask too many questions.
As much as you want to know what happened, going back to the first point, the person grieving will have to relive everything all over again. Refrain from asking, "What happened?" "How did he/she die?" Instead offer words of comfort like, "I'm so sorry about your loss. I am here for you." You're acknowledging their pain but also letting them know that you are there for them and don't just say it either, mean it. Which brings me to the next point.
3) Don't disappear.
Unless you have personally suffered through a loss you may not know what a grieving person needs and that's fair. Many people send their sympathies and flowers and then disappear, probably thinking they need to give their friend or family member space (which may be true), but don't disappear. Send them a text message, chat message, voice or video recording every so often saying, "Hi, I just wanted you to know that I was thinking about you. I'm here if you want to talk. Know that I (love, care, am concerned about) you. Talk to you soon." This will comfort them on the days when they're alone with their thoughts and sadness starts to creep in. I know that there have been moments when I'm really sad or crying and a simple ding will interrupt that moment and almost immediately uplift me.
4) What you can gift them.
Years ago when my boss' mother passed away I gifted him a tree to plant. I thought it was nice gift and to be honest, I had no idea what you gifted someone that lost someone so important in their life. He was very sweet and told me he loved it. Now, after losing my dad, I can tell you that while a tree or plant is nice it is definitely not something I need or want since it requires me to actually take care of it. Here's a list of some of the best gifts I've received and some things that I actually did for my mom and sister that were quarantined by themselves.
Yes to Flowers No to Plants.
I love flowers and they made me smile. What made them more special were the messages that I received with them, knowing that people were thinking of me and went out of their sometimes busy day. My dad hated flowers and my sister reminded me of this, something that I had totally forgotten about. However, the flowers were for me and I found comfort in them. Once the flowers died, I simply tossed them. Plants require more care and to someone that is grieving, believe me, they already have enough on their plate. I recommend contacting a local florist near your friend or family that's grieving. You're likely to get more for your money and you're also supporting a local business.
Yes to Supermarket or Food Delivery Gift Cards No to Comfort Food.
During the time my father was in the hospital and after he passed away we ordered food A LOT. My mom and sister that were in Florida had meals delivered daily as well. We simply did not have the energy or appetite to cook a meal. We ordered a lot of soups from the grocery store, Panera, and used services like Uber Eats and Grubhub (which actually have gift cards). I also made sure my mom and sister had fruits delivered from the grocery cart via Instacart in case they weren't hungry. A friend gifted me a Starbucks gift card that came super handy as I had been recently out of coffee and I managed to buy some teas as well.
On the flip side, our neighbors gifted us lovely gift boxes of, well...junk food. Chocolates (well actually were ok), sweet popcorn, cookies, and cakes filled the house, and while every intention was very sweet and I am grateful that they thought of us, I can tell you that I would sit, eat, and cry. I gained an easy 5 extra pounds the week after my dad died. Victoria, my daughter, and my husband of course loved them and would probably say that I'm nuts, but I'd say don't make it the main gift. Instead opt for it to be a part of a larger gift as my bff did, when she sent us teas, a relaxation candle, stuff for my daughter, and included chocolates.
Yes to Herbal Teas & Home Relaxation No to Massage Gift Cards
Before my father passed away, I had no problem falling asleep and staying asleep. Now, I am struggling to get a good 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep. I've never been a tea drinker, I mean, I am the daughter of a man who had a coffee plantation (in Colombia) after all! Side note here, when my husband first met my father, he gave my husband a freshly made cup of coffee from HIS coffee plant (in Florida). So, let's just say, we're coffee drinkers. However, after my dad died, I found myself not being able to drink coffee and opted for herbal tea to help me relax. I'm now back to coffee, but only in the morning.
A couple of friends also gifted me aromatherapy and self care boxes that are slowly helping me relax again. I'm not there yet, but they are soothing and a reminder that I need to take care of myself. While I love massages and know of some massage places being open now during the pandemic, the thought of exposing myself and feeling vulnerable not just from a Covid perspective but an emotional one is just too much to handle.
Yes to Uplifting Books No to Religion Specific Books or Long Books (Unless you know they will be embraced)
A good friend gifted me a hand held book called Hope in Times of Grief. Now, for me, I loved it because it was small, and although it offered messages of positivity and scripture writings it didn't feel like a religious manual on how to deal with death. Remember, death and what people believe is a very personal thing. Respect that. Instead offer general uplifting books that send messages of hope and positivity, the smaller the better, so as to not overwhelm.
Yes to Thinking of the Kids No to Bringing YOUR Kids Over
One of the best gifts I've received over the last month is my best friend simply coming over and picking up my daughter so that I can have some me time and space. If your friend or family member has kids, know that it is twice as hard for them because not only do they have to deal with their grief, they have to help their child navigate his or her own grief. In our case, it's the very first time my daughter has experienced loss and it has been very difficult for her. While I welcome her having a playdate and getting her mind distracted and feeling happy, the thought of having a house full of kids laughing, playing, and screaming is enough to make me run out the door.
A couple of wonderful gifts that were given to my daughter was a unicorn night light as she became afraid of sleeping in the dark, the book Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs, and I Remember Abuelito, a Day of the Dead Book, and a praying cuddle bear. Another wonderful book that I highly recommend would be The Invisible String. Remember, children are extra sensitive, and they may feel like your friend or family member is getting all the attention. Don't forget about them. Your grieving friend or family member will thank you.
Yes to Money, No Seriously
If you have ever had to do funeral arrangements you know how expensive everything is. If you haven't, let me tell you...thousands! Now, every family is different and while some families have planned what's going to happen when they die, many do not, or they may be found in a situation where they may not have access to the funds they need. In our case, while our father made arrangements to be laid to rest in Colombia, we found ourselves scrambling to put money together for the funeral arrangements here in the US. Why? Because my mom and sister were both quarantined with Covid-19 without being able to access funds. Unless you know for a fact that the family has made prior arrangements or are VERY well off, I promise you, money that you gift will be welcomed. Side note. As a result of this experience, we are looking into burial planning for my mom (and even myself).
5) Give them time to grieve.
Everyone is different and experiences loss differently. Some people may be able to cope better and get back to their daily routine quicker other people may struggle for months. Even the person that passes away in someone's life affects them differently and therefore their loss feels different. As I mentioned before, I lost one of my sisters years ago and as painful as that experience was, it pales in comparison to what I'm feeling now. Know that there is no set time when your friend or family will be back to their normal selves. Know that it may seem like they changed. Simply be there for them and give them time.
6) Accept their emotional ups and downs and take their lead.
On New Year's Day after being cooped up and crying for weeks, we decided to go ice skating as a family. I welcomed the event and felt comfortable because it would be at the new American Dream mall with ample space for social distancing and limited capacity. When we arrived there were, to my surprise, there were very few guests. However, as the day progressed and more people arrived I found myself in the middle of a panic attack. I realized that I was not ready to be surrounded by a lot of happy families. The thought of potentially contracting the virus also sent me into panic and I started to get images of my father in the hospital. Needless to say, we went from a happy high to an emotional low in a matter of a few hours. My family understood and we left as quickly as we could.
Understand that your friend of family may be going through a lot. They may have triggers that quickly send them back to sadness or may even upset them. You may notice more mood swings. Be patient, especially when children are involved. Since my father died, my daughter goes from laughing to screaming to crying in a matter of nanoseconds. We are going to therapy and learning to better cope with all of these emotions but it is a big roller coaster ride. Give your friends or family member a break and listen to any immediate needs they may have.
7) Respect their religious beliefs.
What you think happens after death may not be what your friend or family member that's grieving believes. Refrain from imposing your beliefs onto them unless you know for a fact that they believe the same. Understand that everyone is different and has their own beliefs. Having been raised Catholic and continuing with my parent's Catholic beliefs is very different from our born again Christian brother. We respect each other's beliefs and while I'm praying the rosary he's reading Bible verses but we're not expecting or forcing our beliefs onto each other. Respect your friend or family member's religious beliefs.
Final Thoughts on How you can help A Friend or Family Member That is Grieving
Nobody wants to ever lose a loved one, but we all have to live and die some day. Embracing the present with gratitude and a hope for tomorrow will help you get through any dark days. Being present for any loved one that is going through loss can happen in many ways from a sending text message, book, or simply lending an ear. I promise you, they are appreciated.
If you have personally lost a loved one to Covid-19 know that you are not alone, your pain is very real, and you have my sincerest sympathies as this is something so grueling I wouldn't wish upon anyone. Seek help to help you get through this dark time and never give up on hope for hope is light in darkness.