Around this time last year, my mum passed away. I was in charge of planning her funeral and burial arrangements, dealing with her stuff and pretty much all the other horrible things that you have to do when someone dies. Oh, and I live in San Francisco and my mum was in North Carolina. Literally hundreds of people offered to help me on Facebook and via text, but only two people did. The reason? Only two people made actual suggestions on what they could do to help.
Around the same time, two of my other close friends also lost parents. Like me, they experienced the same phenomenon. We all desperately needed help and support, and friends offered, but no one followed through, for the most part because we didn't ask.
Death is awful. The weeks following my mum's death were awful. While I definitely needed the help, I didn't have the energy or the time to coordinate with friends to handle things. If someone had asked "Would you like a sandwich?" The answer would have most certainly been "Yes. I haven't eaten in two days". But when faced with no sandwich and a hundred people offering to help, I'm not going to text anyone and ask for food, or a ride to the funeral home, or help buying flowers.
That's weird. It's uncomfortable. For a traditionally independent person, it feels like begging even though it's something your friends are generically offering to do. I mean, technically I can drive myself places and find my own sandwich.
For me, the two people that did help were a friend who offered to watch my dog while I headed east, and another superhero pal who actually took a few days off work, said she would just drive me to anything I needed her to, and managed to help me do everything from pick out flowers to deal with the funeral home. I would have never in a million years asked either of them out of the blue, but that they volunteered for those specific tasks was worth a million.
Instead of saying "Let me know if I can help!" I encourage everyone to instead offer a suggestion on exactly what they have time for. Here are some ideas:
Can I bring/buy you breakfast/lunch/dinner?
This is the easiest thing to do by far. Just offer to bring dinner over for an evening or two. It's amazing how much there is to do and how easy it is to forget to eat while you're dealing with it all. Make a frozen lasagna. Raid the snack aisle. If this is a close friend, you don't even need to ask for this one. Just make/buy some stuff and coordinate a drop off or just leave it on their porch (presuming you know they will be home).
I'd be happy to watch your kids/dog/cat/goat while you deal with everything.
If someone has a child or a pet, then they're going to have to figure out how to care for them while they're also dealing with everything else. Obviously, this will vary depending on how close you are with the person. But, even suggesting you can babysit for a specific evening or two, or come over and take the dog on some walks, can be an invaluable gesture.
I'm free on Saturday. What errands do you need help with or can I drive you anywhere?
I would have never even thought to ask a friend to drive me places like the funeral home and flower shop, but wow was it helpful. It was nice to not have to handle those small things alone, and not have to be behind the wheel (which was probably dangerous). By offering a specific time you're free, you also give your friend the opportunity to respond with "No, but could you do this?"
At the end of the day, you're the one that knows your friend the best and what's appropriate depends a bit on your level of friendship. However, if you truly want to help them out, make a suggestion for something you know they might need. Whether it's helping them take care of work or family commitments while they're away, or just offering them lunch. If you offer something specific, they will be much more likely to take you up on it.