Most of us are pretty good about sending sympathy notes or taking casseroles to a friend we know who has recently experienced the loss of a loved one. An online friend is coming up on the two-year anniversary of her son’s death, and it is a stark reminder that the pain of loss doesn’t ever go away. Hopefully, it diminishes, but surely a hug by mail, phone, email, or private message is always appreciated.
In researching my upcoming book about how to write notes that connect, comfort, encourage, and inspire, I have seen two recurring themes in comments from those who have lost loved ones. While they appreciate the outpouring of care and attention they received in the immediate aftermath of the death, the weeks and months afterward—when their friends have gone on with their lives—can feel like they’ve fallen into a black hole and been forgotten. This is a huge opportunity for the rest of us to be more mindful of remembering these friends “after the casseroles are gone.”
I’m working on a way to create a better reminder system for following up with friends in the months and years after the death of their loved one. Fortunately, there are both digital and analog options:
- I keep a list of birthdays by month and when I get a new kitchen calendar every year, I add these birthdays to it. I can add death dates to this list (or create a new list) and add them to my calendar at the beginning of every year.
- I keep a dated “five-year journal” – the kind that only has four or five lines per day but there are five years on the same dated page. I can put reminders beside the date at the top of these pages to reach out to a friend on that day.
- Smartphones all have a reminder app you can use to set up recurring reminders and specify how often—and how far in advance—you want to receive a reminder.
- Gmail (and probably other email services) has a scheduling function, so I can write myself a reminder and schedule it to be delivered to my Inbox on a specific date and time.
Another recurring theme I hear is the lingering fear that a loved one will be forgotten. When we reach out to someone in the months and years after their beloved’s death, it can comfort them to know that person is not forgotten, and it helps when we acknowledge their right to still feel the pain of that loss.
Of course, I believe a heartspoken note, written by hand, is always appropriate for situations like this and represents a gift of love delivered by mail, but the specific way you choose to reach out to them should be based on your own relationship, your knowledge of what they would find meaningful, and your geographic proximity.
Thoughtfully following up over time with a grieving person is a way to convey love, comfort, and healing. Always let compassion and kindness be your guide.
If you have found or experienced other ways to follow up with a grieving friend “after the casseroles are gone,” I’d love to see them in the comments below.
NOTE: Appreciation to my friend Karen R. Sanderson for her title idea for this post.