“If I can do anything for you—anything!—just let me know.”
You will hear that if someone in your life dies. We heard it plenty the last few days. Pam’s father died on Friday, and between the hour of his death and the hour of his funeral on Sunday, we were flat out. Pam was tired after a week of sleeping in a hospital room. Her mother was deep in grief. The rest of us were busy welcoming family to town, and just enjoying the circle of love that kept building in the living room of our rented condo as more and more people arrived in town.
Lots of people said to call if we needed anything. We didn’t call a soul. But we got lots of help from people who skipped the asking part and just did something.
One of my favorites was a man named Harold Richardson.
Harold must be ninety himself, walks slowly with a cane. He was one of my father-in-law’s best friends. Almost exactly a year ago his wife had died. On Saturday Harold called my newly widowed mother-in-law, told her he was going to drop off something for the funeral reception. Della told him she wouldn’t be in her apartment in the retirement facility—she’d be with us at the condo we had rented in town. That was fine, Harold said, he’d just drop it off.
And he did.
It was two platters of fried chicken covered with tin foil. Harold didn’t fry that chicken; we’re not sure where he got it, but it was good. And it never actually made it to the funeral reception. The burgeoning family circle needed lunch before the two o’clock funeral the next day, and we heated it in the oven and put it on the counter buffet where it promptly vanished. (Actually I fought my son-in-law for the last wing.)
It was my daughter Sharon—who had been at her mother’s side all week, through the wee-hour agonies of a dying man she loved as a cherished Papa—who said it: “One thing I’ve learned this week. When someone dies, don’t ask the family what you can do. Just figure out what you’re going to do and do it.”
That’s a good lesson, one most of us know but forget in the moment. You don’t have to bring fried chicken. And you don’t have to do it before the funeral. People in shock and grief need love and support long after everyone’s gone home and life is back to “normal” for everyone but the bereft.
Ask not what you can do for your friends in grief; just do it.