There’s nothing quite like the lead up to, the death and the aftermath of a Beloved’s beloved dying, to showcase the best and worst of human behaviour.
It’s not surprising, given the situation often invokes our base fight or flight instincts and that, combined with the presence of emotions such as sadness and anxiety produced by family get togethers, the need for joint decision making, residual guilt over what has or hasn’t been said and done before, during or after the death itself … well, let’s just say that the odds of the atmosphere being full of peace, love and harmony are somewhat reduced.
For those one-step removed from the death of their Beloveds beloved, knowing exactly what to do, or not, can be perplexing and fraught with misunderstanding, as you navigate the murky emotional waters.
In lieu of being categorically sure of how to help, here are 13 things not to do:
- Don’t be controlling – unless you’ve been given specific responsibility for making any or all of the arrangements. You’re not in charge. Know your place and don’t overstep it, no matter how tempted you are.
- Don’t be overly task focussed – time can stand still while a beloved is dying and creating or revisiting memories is an important part of grieving. Don’t create pressure in the pursuit of ticking off the task list.
- Don’t presume – no matter how close you were to your Beloved’s beloved, don’t presume to be walking in their Jimmy Choo shoes. Saying “I know your Dad would want such and such” is not necessarily helpful.
- Don’t be dramatic – death is an inevitable part of life so creating drama (e.g. “You must be absolutely heartbroken; how will you cope?”) doesn’t enable perspective or effective coping skills.
- Don’t go MIA – while you may be uncomfortable with some or all of the dying process, choosing to deliberately absent yourself – especially from providing whatever support your Beloved needs (even when they don’t know what that is for themselves) – is cowardly, inconsiderate and frankly, disrespectful.
- Don’t be intolerant – death can be fast or dying can take it’s own sweet time. And so does grieving. I was in a horrible fog for well over a month after my brother died and 10 years later, that fog still rolls in from time to time.
- Don’t fixate – when things feels out of control, it’s natural to want to create certainty (e.g. “The flowers must be Peonies”) but doing so to the point of short term obsession (e.g. “I don’t care if they are out of season, fly them in from the other side of the world because we can’t hold the funeral without Peonies!”) is a distraction your Beloved is unlikely to need.
- Don’t be self-absorbed – all things being equal, this is not a time to be crying “But what about me?” because it’s not about you. Get over yourself.
- Don’t ignore – life goes on while your Beloved is sitting by a hospital bed and it can be a challenge to find the balance between bringing them the external world and respecting their capacity, or lack thereof, to function within it. Test that balance often.
- Don’t ask – even well intended questions such as “What are you doing to take care of yourself?” or “What can I do to help?” may require more bandwidth than your Beloved has available, when they are in the throes of losing someone they love. Try to put yourself in their shoes, anticipate what might be helpful without taking over.
- Don’t talk about the will – beyond checking whether there is a funeral insurance plan to invoke, seriously? This is soooo not the time!
- Don’t assume – when the funeral is over, the status quo may not revert straightaway, if ever. Life, as you knew it, may irrevocably change as a result of your Beloved’s beloved dying. Tread carefully, while your Beloved’s ‘new normal’ surfaces.
- Don’t forget – more often than not, some wonderful people show up in tough times, unexpectedly. They provide support, one way or another, and somehow know just the right thing to say when it’s most needed. These are the people YOU need to lean on, so your Beloved can lean on you.
What else needs to be added to this don’t list, Ripenists?