Supporting Friends & Family Who Are Grieving

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Gift for Grieving Family

Jan 2012

A friend of mine's recently estranged husband just took his life. There are two young children involved (about ages 10 and 5). My friend lives far away and we are both members of a small women's support e-mail group. Our group plans to send her gifts over the next couple of weeks and I would welcome suggestions of gift ideas (we will also send her cards on a regular basis for several months, which given the size of our group works out to a card every other day, which from our group's experience following the loss of another member's spouse is a very welcome gesture). There are some dietary restrictions and lack of local resources that make it not possible to send dinners, which I would like. One friend is already sending a fruit basket, another books on grieving after suicide, including for the children, and another is sending a tea sampler. Can the vast wisdom of this group please provide me with other suggested gifts we can consider in the coming weeks? Amy

I think it is incredibly sweet and wonderful that your group is working so hard to help this grieving family. Sometimes physical gifts are not what the family needs most. (I view myself as somewhat of an expert on this topic since I had been through the loss of two immediate family members by the time I was 20 - one to suicide, one to cancer.) Gifts are wonderful, but moral support is huge. It sounds like you've already offered moral support, but be sure this support endures the years. The family will go through stages and their grief will be a living, breathing thing and will pop up throughout their lives. They'll have breaks from the grief to allow for happy ''normal'' lives, but they'll have rough moments that will creep in. Don't be afraid to ask the friend, ''What do you need from us? What would feel most helpful to you right now?'' Give them a chance to tell you. If they hedge and say ''nothing,'' be sure to make it clear that your group is there for the family in anything they might need, no matter how seemingly small. As I was writing this, I actually did think of some ''gifts'' that I think could be appropriate. (You being the one who knows your friend would be the best judge...) But has the group considered gift card(s)? For their favorite grocer? Book store? Target for all-purpose needs? Something that would allow the family to take care of their needs. If you think they'd be offended and do not believe they need the financial help, then that may not be the right path. More advice: be aware that all families have their own way of grieving -- try to be sensitive to their needs. Sometimes their need is to be given some space. Having several people ''in their face'' with offerings and gifts can be overwhelming. It's a tricky balance to strike sometimes, but being aware and sensitive can go a long way. grief experienced

One thing I can think of is a hand written letter/card of sympathy expressing how truly sorry you are for what has happened to their family. You might include a pre-paid telephone card if appropriate so she can call you or anybody as needed for support. You should ask her to tell you what they need right now in the way of help and support from your group so you can provide it. I just think a hand written note is way better than an email. Maybe a phone call every other day might be a good thing too! Best of Luck anon

Hello, and my condolences to the family. From my personal experience, the gift you could truly give is your support and just being there for the family at this time. You could ask her what she needs right now too. I lost my mom to suicide two years ago while I was pregnant with my first and while all those gifts are great it was too much for me in the beginning and then soon after, all the gifts were gone and so were those people. After a few days/weeks, I was ready to talk and well, no one was reaching out to me at that time. Not that I was reaching out either though but I'm a very introverted person when it comes to that. It's not like I could call up someone and be - hey, so can we talk about what just happened? Anyway, that was on me, but it's hard to know what you need, want, feel during that time. It's a slow and quiet chaos. For me, I just needed time - but again this is my own personal experience. Your friend maybe different. We each need our time to grieve and just because time passes - we may still be grieving. Just be a constant support for her to let her know that you can be called on, now or two years from now. I suggest looking up AFSP - Please also feel free to message me off line - soanonanon [at] -still surviving the loss

I vote for focusing on the kids: some things they could focus on as a family -- little projects that they could do. Kids need to focus on things unrelated to the big emotion staring them in the face. Some things my kids, same age, have enjoyed recently include an ant farm (there's one with cool blue gel that's really easy to see through), volcano kit, and Perplexus (a marble maze in a plastic ball, kind of addicting). Maybe a journal for the 10 year old. Perplexus comes in 3 sizes -- Junior, regular, and epic. I'd suggest the regular one. Depending on the kids, lego sets (this is often less a family activity still, kids need to be able to space out). If the kids are physical, something they'd need to master -- stilts, unicycle, those skateboards with only one wheel in front and back. Books that are in a series or genre that the kids like? Junie B Jones and Magic Tree House are still recalled fondly in our house and we still refer to the trouble Junie B got herself into. You know the mom -- bath salts? Something that encourages her to take a breather for herself. Do you know what she likes to read or movies? Some current books in the genre she likes? thanks for trying

Your group is wonderful to offer assistance from afar. Maybe you can arrange to have their home cleaned, offer special outings for the family - museum passes, movie passes, things they can do together. For your friend, maybe a bit of pampering - a massage, manicure, etc. I know you said you can't arrange dinners but my sister just arranged to have food delivered from a favorite local restaurant after a death in our family on the east coast. She just called and asked if they would deliver and even though its something they don't do the owner said he could drop it off. anon

I have a family member who lost her husband from suicide with 3 young boys and I have also lost a child. The cards with personal writing in them were always welcomed for me. While no gift really made me feel very good. I think very small things are nice. Such as the teas, lavender soaps (or other handmade soaps), candles, even poetry that is encouraging or discusses loss was very appreciated. Just remember simple is best. It is too overwhelming to accept any large gifts. Also, things that kids can use that she may not feel up to getting is nice (i.e. fuzzy socks, fleece blanket, new lunch bags or cool lunch pail, fun tights if she has a girl, or anything that glows or has a light (since night-time tends to be pretty rough). I hope this is helpful. Anon

How about activity books or do-it-yourself project kits for the kids, to get them occupied and give Mom some space. Possibly tickets to the zoo etc., to get the family out of the house. Since dinners are not an option, gift cards for restaurants that suit them, or even groceries like Trader Joe's or wherever they prefer to shop.

Supporting Friend Through Loss of Son

March 2008

Hearbreakingly, my best friend of 25 years lost her son to an accidental drug overdose last summer. He had just turned 21. We are all still in shock and we're all still expecting him to walk in the room with that huge grin of his and make everything ok. But those days are over and the loss is vast. My girlfriend is full of sorrow and shock and there are so many anniversaries to deal with this first year, and his birthday is coming up next month. So I'm wondering for any suggestions about what to say, what to do, how to be the best possible friend. I'm doing my best to just be a respectful, caring listener to anything she has to say, but that feels so inadaquate at times. And then another issue, how to express my support while still managing my own grief, which is profound, and I'm still so broken up about it at times that it impacts my ability to be present for my beloved friend. Sometimes I wonder if I should wait for her to bring the issue up, sometimes I wonder if it's ok to bring it up on my own, and it's so hard to know what's best and most supportive. Thanks to this community for your kind support. Sad, sad, sad

First of all, I am really sorry to hear about your loss and that of your friend. My family lost my brother ten years ago (I can't believe it's been ten years...) and are still deeply affected by it.

Some things to keep in mind. She never EVER stops thinking about it. Even when she's not talking about it, even when she's talking about something else or watching television, reading the's always there and it's going to be like this for a long time.

She probably wants to talk about it all the time (her brain, heart and soul are working overtime to process the impossible), however, she might feel like my friends are tiring of listening to the same stories over and over again. So, the best thing you can do for her is reinforce your presence and willingness to listen and discuss what happened. Understand that she is searching for clues in what little ''evidence'' she has (their shared history) as she tries to comprehend this.

Be very patient, have no expectations that she will heal or ''get out there'' anytime soon. Tell her that you love her and ask what you can do for her. (I had one friend who would always ask ''what can I do for you'' which was much more powerful than ''do you need anything'', I'm not sure why.)

The death of my brother crushed my mother. It's only in the past two years that she has started to surface. She is very cautiously re-engaging in life. Believe me, she didn't want to feel this way for this long, but it's just how long it has taken her to find her way back. And she remembers, clearly, which of her friends and family gave her the space to heal and those who expected her to ''get on with it''. For her, the healing took so long because she could only handle small drops of the pain, heavily diluted by distraction. So, anything that risked too much pain at once (church, music, pictures, self-help books, etc) were too much for the first few years.

Be patient and loving and let her lead the way. She might never get over this (and I'm not sure she should) but she will, in time, learn to live with it. my mother's guide

First, let me tell you how sorry I am for YOUR loss. I'm glad you included that in your posting. It's a very helpful & valid point. I have had the experience of being the relative of (cousin), and friend of people who have lost a child. It is so tragic to deal with the loss and so very difficult to move on. I have been open with both people about what to do -- so I suggest you do the same. Ask your friend, ''How can I help to ease your pain?'' I know that in both cases the moms LOVE that I remember their child's birthday every year (forever) with a card that expresses how I still miss their child, how I remember certain (specific) things about them, what I miss about them, what I wish and long for, and that I cannot truly understand but sort of do understand just how much they must be suffering. I talk about the child when I feel like it -- when I'm moved to, but not every time we're together. When things come up that remind me of the child, I call or write them a note telling them this. Each of them has expressed to me that their greatest fear is that the world will forget their child. Help this to NOT happen. Help their child's memory stay alive -- in yours. And, share your grief. It is fair to let your friend know that you hurt over your loss as well. Best to you. You are a good friend.

It might help to tell your friend that you would like to help her more during this difficult time, but that you are so sad yourself about her son's death that you don't know how to help. Then, maybe she will be better able to open up and tell you how you could help her adjust to her devastating loss. Maybe you could go to a support group together, or create a scholarship together in his name. Friend of bereaved parents

My friend's baby has severe brain damage

May 2003

My best friend has a 5 month old baby with fairly severe brain damage due to blood clots and stroke in utero. How this will play out in his development is unknown, and she worries about everything he does that isn't ''normal''. Her grief and anger are huge. She lives out of state and I've been trying to support her long-distance. I could use advice on anything that might help her with her grief about having an unwell child. Or might help her accept her son and whatever may happen in the future. If anyone can recommend books/resources/etc., I'd greatly appreciate it. Jennifer

Call the Family Resource Network in Oakland 510-547-7322 and explain your situation. For me personally, in the very beginning, I found the most support from my friends and family who were simply able to say ''I'm sorry'' (without pity) and just be present with me in my grief. Then as time goes by, advice and resource referrals are easier to take in... Best of luck to you and your friend. Anon