20 Ways to Support Others During an Illness or Death

20 Ways to Support Others during an Illness or Loss of a Loved One

When someone you know and love is in the hospital or loses a loved one, most likely one of the first things out of your mouth is, "Let me know if there is anything I can do to help."  Without a doubt there are things that you can do to help without them ever having to tell you what to do.

This summer, my grandfather (who was a wonderful man and who I was very close to) was in the hospital for over thirty days and then passed away.  It was a very difficult time for every member of our family, and as you can imagine, we are all still grieving our loss.  But during this time, I saw people come to our rescue and show support for our family in different ways.  I decided to create a list of ideas to help you support a friend, and to serve as a reminder for myself--a place for me to refer back to when I need to reach out to others.

So, let's get started!

1.  Prepare a meal or a dish.
     This is probably the first idea that pops into mind when wanting to help someone out.  For many years people have comforted others by helping them meet one of life's most basic needs - nourishment.  It is not until you are in a similar situation that you really realize how much such a gesture can comfort.  However, not everyone feels comfortable or capable of cooking for others, and sometimes it is just not a practical way to reach out.  Fear not!  There are many more options to choose if this one is not ideal for you or the situation.

2.  Purchase a meal for the family.
     Our family was fortunate enough to have several people reach out by purchasing a meal.  Some brought BBQ, some brought sandwich fixin's, some brought Publix chicken, some brought biscuits for breakfast, and some brought Pizza.  No matter what food was on the menu, the fact that they cared enough to do it, and to take their time to bring it wherever we needed it was a comfort during such a difficult time. 

    A full meal is certainly not necessary.  We had several people reach out with snack foods that we could keep at the hospital for all of those times we were sitting by his bedside or waiting in the waiting room.  One lady made the adorable little snack box you see above.  Others brought a cooler with drinks plus a variety of snacks.  One lady made cookies.  My mother-in-law made a plethora of candies and baked goods.  I may even be forgetting some of the things people brought.  Either way with our HUGE family, I think almost everything was gone...and what wasn't was taken home and is still being enjoyed.

All of these delicious gestures brought new meaning to the words, "comfort food", but food is certainly NOT the only way to support someone going through a difficult time.

Photo courtesy of Microsoft Office Clipart

4.  Cut the grass.
     For neighbors, this might be easier to pull off, but freshly cut grass is a wonderful site to behold when your chores are going by the way side.  Years ago, my grandfather (wise man that he was) would laugh about how people would "wade through grass up to their waist to ask you what they could do for you" but never see the obvious answer right in front of them.  This is a task that most families are not going to ask you to do, but they sure will be appreciative when they see that you have thought of it on your own.

Photo courtesy of Microsoft Office Clipart

5.  Send a card.
     I think anyone can pull this one off!  It's probably the easiest thing on this list.  No matter whether you write a letter on the inside or just say you are thinking/praying for them and sign your name.  Knowing that other people care helps remove a little bit of the burden being carried.  Every card I have read that was sent to me or my family brought more fondness for the person behind the gesture.

Photo courtesy of Microsoft Office Clipart

6.  Clean the house.
     Now this one is dependent on how close you are to the person, obviously.  However, if you are close to someone this one goes right with cutting the grass as a way to help them by completing a chore that they are having to leave undone for the moment.

Photo Courtesy of Microsoft Clipart

7.  Run Errands for them.
     One lady, after hearing that my grandfather had passed, told me to let her know if she could do anything.  She followed up by saying, "I could pick up dry cleaning, drop something off, any kind of errand you need done."  This was a fabulous idea.  When planning a funeral, there are so many things that have to be done in a short amount of time.  Offering to take something to the cleaners or help it get from here to there is a fabulous way to be helpful.

Photo Courtesy of Microsoft Clipart

8.  Call or Text.
     Caring enough to check in is another easy way to reach out.  You might get their voicemail, and never get a call or text back (because, let's face it, there may not be time to call back or they may not feel like talking about it), but that's ok.  For them to know that you care is all you need to do to support them during this time, and they will remember when it is all said and done, that you were there for them.

Photo Courtesy of Microsoft Clipart

9.  Visit.
    Depending on the situation, you may not even get in the hospital room to visit with the person who is sick, but it says a lot to the person who is sick and their family just to know you stopped by.  Sitting in the waiting room and chatting with the family is a wonderful way to not only show you care, but possibly even evaluate ways that you can support them further.  Just be mindful that there are times when it is appropriate to stay just a few minutes, and times when you might need to stay longer.  Awareness in that moment is key to deciding how long to stay.

10.  Give flowers, plants or arrangements. 
       I think each member of our family went around the visitation room at the funeral home and read every card that was attached to each flower, plant or arrangement.  If a new gift was sitting in the hospital room, we all wanted to know, "who's that from?".   The wreath pictured above was sent by uncle's work.  They knew my grandfather loved to hunt and fish, so they made a beautiful wreath to honor him.  It was so beautiful that my grandmother decided to keep it at home for a little while before returning it to his grave in the fall.  As a reader of this blog, chances are you are a crafty person, so this is a way that you can reach out by using your God given talent.

Photo Courtesy of Microsoft Office Clipart

11.  Donate to a nonprofit in their memory.
     Of course a flower arrangement by every person who cares would be excessive and certainly wouldn't even fit in the visitation room, thus the reason some people say that in lieu of flowers you can donate to a certain nonprofit.  If they have chosen a nonprofit then you can send there.  If not, you might want to just choose one that you feel best represents an issue that they might care about, the illness they had, or a nonprofit they might want to see grow.  My grandfather was instrumental in growing a local school, so it was fitting to donate there.  However, as I said earlier, his love of hunting and fishing might have led you to support an organization like the National Turkey Federation or something to that effect.  Just think of an organization that reminds you of their contributions to your community.

Photo Courtesy of Microsoft Office Clipart

12. Offer to do coffee.
      We all know that when you are spending a lot of time in a hospital or grieving the loss of a loved one, sometimes you just need to get away and spend time with a friend.  So, whether they want to go to Starbucks, meet in the hospital cafeteria, or just have you come by and bring their favorite drink, just to offer coffee (or a milkshake or something) can be a great way to say, "I am here for you, but I understand if you just have a small amount of time."

Photo Courtesy of Microsoft Office Clipart

13.  Occupy their kids.
       One of the hardest things for a parent of young kids is wanting or needing to spend a lot of time at the hospital, but knowing it is not the best place for your kids to be.  Whether you choose to offer to babysit, take them on a playdate with your child,  occupy them while they are sitting in the waiting room, or bring some coloring/activity books, helping a parent protect their young child from boredom, germs & even the sad realities of life is a great way to help out.

Photo Courtesy of Microsoft Office Clipart

14.  Give the gift of a handkerchief or a Kleenex.
      This one is one of my favorites.  My great uncle's daughter (my 2nd cousin if you want to get technical) came to the visitation bearing the gift of embroidered handkerchiefs.  She gave one to each of my grandfather's daughters and granddaughters.  Not only was it convenient to have and hearty for lots of tears, this handkerchief is now very special to me.  As a matter of fact, I am planning on having my grandfather's initials embroidered on it as another way to preserve his memory.  Another variation of this would be to send a box or travel size packet of Kleenex to a friend to let them know that you are willing to be their shoulder on which to cry.  It's a gesture of true sympathy and kindness.

15.  Words of Encouragement.
       We certainly don't always have the right words to say, but sometimes telling a similar story and how things turned out positively can help them grasp on to hope that might be hard to see in that moment.  A while back, when my husband had a melanoma and had to have surgery to remove his lymph nodes because they feared it had spread, I composed a list of verses that comforted me and reminded me that God was in control.  Thank goodness it had not spread and my husband is now cancer free.  However, I still use that list of verses to comfort those going through difficult times.  Whenever someone is facing illness or death, I mail those verses along with a card explaining how those verses were a comfort to me, as I hope they will be to them.   

Photo Courtesy of Microsoft Office Clipart

16.  Anticipate their needs.
       This one can be tricky, however, the more in contact you are, the better you will know what they might need.  The person who brought food for the visitation night, thought ahead and brought breath mints for the family, knowing that we would be meeting and greeting folks throughout the night.  Then someone else took it to another level by coming by a couple of times throughout the night just to check and see if the family members that were in the receiving line needed a mint or a bottled water.  It was a small gesture...but was extremely thoughtful and certainly anticipated the need. 

Photo Courtesy of Microsoft Office Clipart

17.  The gift of distraction.
      A magazine or crossword puzzle just might be an option to help the person in the hospital and their caretaker take their minds off of the situation at hand for even just a moment, but not require as much focus or time as a piece of literature. 

18.  Attend the funeral or visitation.
       I just can't tell you how comforting it is to see people lined out the door at the visitation or to see the chapel filled to capacity at the service.  Someone once told me that when she was grieving a loss she would hug people and mentally imagine that she was handing them just a little piece of her grief to lessen her load by allowing them to carry it for her.  Seeing someone honor your loved one was enough for me.  It made me feel like they were lined up to take their little piece to help us carry our grief.

19.  Ask them about their loved one.
       I have always hated to bring up someone's loss or their family member's illness because I didn't want to make them cry or remind them of their pain.  However, I have learned that's not how it works.  First of all, they most likely have it at the forefront of their mind, even if they aren't showing it.  Plus, they probably are WANTING to talk about it, but don't want to bring you down.  Talking about your loved one is one of the best ways to keep your memories alive.  Another valid point here is that is just shows that you are sympathetic to their situation and care about how they are.  Now obviously don't keep on about it if they are avoiding the topic. Simply asking them about the situation will let you know whether they are interested in talking about it or not.

Photo Courtesy of Microsoft Office Clipart

20.  PRAY!!
       Whether they believe in God or not...whether you believe in God or not...the fact is, there are times in life when we know that we are NOT in control.  Nothing is more comforting than knowing that God has a plan and that others care enough to reach out to Him on your behalf.  If you do believe, then you are confident that He will answer those prayers either by healing your loved one or bringing comfort and peace to deal with the loss or circumstance.

I hope this list helps you find a way to reach out to someone going through a hard time.  Remember when you reach out, what you are offering just might not work out for some reason, so don't take it personally if they graciously decline your offer...afterall, you want to help and only they know if what you are offering will be helpful in their situation.

So what is your "go to" gesture, or what have others done for you in your time of need that you felt was a gesture you would never forget?  I would love to know, so please comment below.       

I would like to also say a special public thank you to all who reached out to our family during this difficult time.  I pray that God will bless you for your kindness, and I plan to pay it forward when I see others in a time of need.



Jenny Barnett Rohrs said...

My 91-year old grandfather passed this summer, too- also after a hospital stay. Can I add one more thing? A gift of thank you cards, all stamped and ready to go, and a fresh pen. We as a family had SO many thank you cards to write to family and friends for their help and support during that time that a fresh stack of thank you cards to fill out is a *big* help. And bonus points if those cards are handmade. : )

Thank you for a great post,

Unknown said...

very helpful post! thanks for the list you've provided.

marissa | Rae Gun Ramblings said...

what a great post. when you're in the moment it's so hard to think of what to do you just feel so bad this is a great resource thanks so much for taking the time to write it out!

Niki said...

Thanks so much, Marissa...that's just what I was thinking. I usually think of food, and maybe a card or call, but then beyond that, I just get lost. Thanks for stopping by!!

Niki said...

Jenny, that is a FABULOUS idea!! I helped my grandmother write thank you notes and it took forever.

House Crazy in Michigan! said...

This was so timely. We have a family member in a distant town who is on this operating table today with heart surgery. Thanks.

Small House / Big Sky Donna / White Oak Studio Designs / SW Michigan
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Judy Bisaya said...

Hi Niki,

I am not good at this kind of situation. I normally just say the standard phrase which I felt so lacking. This is a great post. We'd like to invite you to share it at Pin It Monday Hop. Hope you could make it.
Here's the link:

See you and have a nice day!


Niki said...

My pleasure...thanks so much for stopping by!

Niki said...

So sorry to hear that. I will say a little prayer for your friend. Thanks so much for stopping by and for commenting.

DIY On the Cheap said...

These are great suggestions, Niki! I remember how hard it was when we lost my grandpa and we were all camped out in the hospital for so long beforehand. It helped so much when friends helped out by doing the "little things" that we just didn't have time or energy for.

-Erin @ DIY on the Cheap

Erica D. said...

Amazing ideas Niki!!

Erica D. said...

Great ideas Niki! I love your heart in this post! XO, Erica

katie {deranchification} said...

Great ideas for how to help! I always think to take food, but I'm an awful cook so this is a super-helpful list to give me other ways to support them!

handmadegiftsarebest said...

Great Ideas. I like your blog. You have a lot to give. Thanks