I returned home one summer in university to support my mother as she lived out her final few months on earth. She had asked me not to take on a summer job, offering to support me through the summer so that we could spend time together. She died two weeks later.
Though my mom's death changed parts of my life forever, the most immediate challenge was paying my bills with this unexpected financial change and no job. Though half of her property would come to me following a full, legal probate, for that summer, I was left high, dry and depressed.
When my aunt heard I was so hard up, she pulled out her checkbook and gifted me $500 on the spot. Though I found a part time job eventually, that $500 saved me that summer.
It's been nearly 10 years since my mother passed, and I write a lot about what people need when they've suffered a loss. They need understanding from their support system, help with practical matters like cooking and funeral planning, and (if they don't already have it)—cold, hard cash.
When someone fundamental in your life—a parent, sibling, child, best friend or spouse—dies, there's so much to do: plan a funeral, write an obituary, meet with family members, make decisions, organize, plan, find a will, file paperwork, visit the courthouse, and that's just the beginning.
You also must confront the inevitability of death, recognize that your relationship with the dead person must now always be one-sided, manage your grief in relation to the grief of those around you, battle internal rage, discover positive and negative coping strategies, and forge on with an identity that is battered. On top of all that, most people have lives and responsibilities that can't stop for grief. Work, school, kids, bills, responsibilities and obligations don't end with the life of a cherished loved one.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to grief.
Space. More time. Alone time. Together time. Coffee dates with friends. The funeral to be over. Help with child care. Nourishing food. Exercise. Compassion. Respect. Time to sleep. Time off. A drink. A reliable vehicle. A link to their loved one. Closure. A glass of water. Grief counseling.
But grieving people also need money at this time, though they probably won't ask for it.
Before you offer a grieving person "anything you can do," or "thoughts and prayers," think about asking if they need some financial support. You are allowed to have boundaries, and financial constraints yourself. You can't offer $500 if you don't have it, but you can probably offer $20, or a lunch, or a ride.
Money isn't just money at a time of extreme grief. For me, $500 meant a couple of weeks to job hunt and plan a funeral with independence.
For those who are so busy planning a funeral that they don't have time to eat at home, it's a convenient meal. For those who are taking time off work to process what has happened, it's some leeway. For those who need a distraction, it's an evening out with friends. For those who've lost someone dear, it's the chance to create a permanent memorial.
If someone you know is grieving a serious loss, and you want to help out, start with money. As callous as it sounds, giving a financial gift is more likely to alleviate the stress on someone who is recently bereaved more than any other.
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