You get the phone call and your heart sinks. A loved one has just died and you aren’t sure what to do next. Since the deceased is not your immediate family, you aren’t sure if you should automatically jump into supporting those around you, or if you should take some time to grieve yourself. Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as do this and not that. Death hits every person in a different way, no matter how close the connection to the loved one was.
It is good that you want to support your loved ones, and they will appreciate your efforts, but first you need to allow yourself to feel the loss. Take some time to let the news sink in. If it was your nephew or your cousin, think about your memories with this person. If the relationship was less than perfect, start the healing process by writing a letter filled with all the things you wish you would have said.
The best way to talk to your kids is by being as upfront and direct as possible. Don’t say the loved one is sleeping or “went away;” this is deceiving and unclear. Your children need to know they won’t be able to play with him or her again, so they can work through the stages of grief just like you need to. Allow them to show their emotions. If they want to attend the services, let them. If you feel like your kids aren’t processing the death very well, find a support group for them. GriefNet.org offers several email support groups for both adults and kids, enabling them to connect with other young people who are going through a loss.
Once you feel like your immediate family has received the support they need to process the death, it is time to be there for the family members who have been impacted the most by the loss. You can do this in many different ways. One option is to send some sympathy flowers, so your family knows you are sending thoughts and prayers their way. Even if you need to tend to your children and yourself first, this gesture ensures they know you aren’t ignoring them.
Another good idea is to take over some casseroles, so they won’t have to worry about cooking during their mourning. If you are not a proficient cook, the Food Network has plenty of easy casserole recipes that you can make with little experience.
Above all, listen to and respect the feelings these family members are feeling. If they want to tell stories about the loved one for hours on end, just sit and listen with open ears. If they want to just sit in silence, let them.