My dad died in January from Covid-19. He had been on a ventilator for 37 days when we realized enough was enough and we made the difficult decision to withdraw care. I did as most people do in this day and age…I posted about his passing on Facebook. The typical scenario ensued where I received lots of Facebook messages on the post. Here’s what didn’t happen….phone calls. In fact, while I received almost 200 messages on Facebook, I received only two phone calls. The really sad part was that family members didn’t call either. I received only text messages from my in-laws, aunts/uncles, cousins etc.
Modern technology and social media, it seems, has all but eliminated the personal response in these types of situations. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but prayer hands and sad faced emoji’s are not acceptable expressions for sympathy. People either don’t know how or they simply don’t want to expose themself to someone when they are grieving. And I get it! Grief is really hard and I can fully acknowledge that sitting with someone during this difficult time is awkward. People aren’t typically educated on how to respond to someone who has lost a loved one and it’s one of the downfalls of our modern society; because death will always happen.
The two people that called me were unexpected. One of them, a physician I work with, was so dear on the phone in expressing how sorry he was for me that I was taken aback by his ability to put himself out there to me like that. The other, a friend’s mother, who instilled strength in me through her words that this, with time, will get easier. Both of these people have my respect. They did something that was very brave, they listened to me cry and gave me their attention as I vented about how the whole situation just sucked. The opportunity to express that to someone (other than my spouse and my mother) meant the world to me.
I will be completely transparent and admit that in the past, I have not responded well when friends have lost loved ones. It’s fairly easy to make excuses to avoid being exposed to someone falling apart from grief. My dad’s death taught me a lot but the biggest lesson I have learned is how to express sympathy. Here are a few ways to express sympathy that doesn’t involve texts or emojis:
- Phone Calls. I understand that phone calls require a certain amount of grief exposure that can make people uncomfortable. Some people may not want to talk when they are mourning and that’s ok, the gesture of the call means just as much. The phone call doesn’t have to be long, just long enough to ask how the person is doing, if they need anything, and to express your condolences. And please, listen more than you speak during these phone calls.
- Cards. If you aren’t comfortable calling then old fashioned Hallmark cards are a great choice. A text can be sent at a stop light. A card shows that you took some time out of your day and made some effort.
- Flowers. The flowers I received were just gorgeous and an unexpected surprise. Flowers can be expensive option but a really lovely choice for someone if you have the extra cash available.
- Meals. Kind neighbors delivered food that fed my family when I was too overwhelmed to cook. These acts of love will never be forgotten and they taught me that something as simple as a pizza can mean more than anything when your heart is broken. With the multitude of meal delivery options that are available now, this is an easy way to show you care.
- Alcohol. One of my friends from another state sent me her shipment of wine from FirstLeaf and another friend brought over a bottle of Prosecco with a box of chocolates. These ladies knew my heart and oh man how that wine helped me get through some long nights.
I had a handful of friends whose support meant the world to me and between the meals, alcohol, and a good therapist I’ve been able to get through the worst part of this process. I’m afraid as a society we are starting to turn away from each other in times of need. We are so goal driven towards happiness that we are losing sight of compassion, caring, and comfort. We need to respond better and be willing to expose ourselves to people during their worst times and do for others as you would have them do for you.
I had my first opportunity to practice what I’m preaching just recently. My neighbor passed away unexpectedly so we sent flowers to his wife telling her to please let us know if we can be of service to her. She texted me to thank me and asked us to please help her find a lawn service to take over the responsibilities of the yard that her sweet husband always managed. We gladly did this. It’s what I would want done for me if I were in her shoes.