Cancer & Caregiving

Healing the Family After the Death of a Loved One

Written By:
Jul 17, 2015
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Written By: Melanie Ball,
July 17, 2015

My husband came in from working outside one day last fall. He had a worried look on his face when he told me our neighbor had passed.

I immediately turned and headed for the kitchen, without saying a word. He followed, and curiously asked what I was doing. I shouted over the clang of my pots and pans: “Frying chicken!”

Families acquire ways for dealing with death. In my family, we eat. We cook, we order out, we graze, we eat. That is our way of making sense of things. We congregate in the kitchen, and if you are not hungry, we will still serve you a plate because that is what we do to heal.

Food Plays an Important Role in How Our Family Grieves

After battling mesothelioma for 13 months, my father took his last breath on Nov. 4, 1993 at 5:08 p.m. He was 45.

I rode home from the hospital that night with my brother and his wife. As we pulled the car into the driveway, we found many of our family members had already congregated at our house.

While some of my memories from that time are clouded with grief, I remember quite well the aroma that filled the kitchen that night — pizza.

The next few days seemed to pass like a tornado. For those who have experienced the death of someone close, I am sure you can relate. It is a surreal feeling of being there, but not being there.

Family members and friends came and went to see how the family was coping. Others came by to offer their condolences. But I remember that everyone brought food, and we all ate.

Isn’t that what we are supposed to do when someone dies?

Mourning isn’t a neatly drawn picture that we step into after experiencing a loss. Each person experiences their own process of grief, yet we often have similar experiences.

We attend memorial services, funerals and wakes. We express our condolences and try to be understanding. We weep and grieve together.

What Comes After the Initial Shock?

Those left behind struggle to pick up the pieces that remain of their lives.

People try to regain that sense of normalcy. I know how hard that process can be. It takes time, and most importantly, it requires support.

When my father died, some of our family members stayed for a few days. Some helped with daily chores like cooking and cleaning. At the time, I didn’t notice this was even happening.

Someone put the pizza in the oven and someone washed the dishes. Someone else did the laundry, and another person straightened up the house. I don’t remember who did all those chores because I was a teenager when I lost my father. But I am eternally grateful for those who helped.

Experiencing grief has a way of bringing families together when they feel torn apart.

Families are bonded in support of one another through the crisis. People often ask, “Is there anything I can do?” Social norms of politeness dictate our answers: ‘No, I am okay.’

It’s OK to Need Help During Critical Times

There are a few things family members can do to show support for each other. Let them handle simple things that just don’t seem to concern us when we are grieving. Allow them to go grocery shopping, do laundry, feed and care for pets, babysit, cook meals, and wash dishes.

Perhaps it would be more helpful to offer a gift certificate for a local restaurant or bring a pre-cooked frozen casserole with re-heating instructions. After a few days, invite the family over for dinner at your house. They might enjoy some time away from home.

The point is no one heals from the death of a loved one alone. Families need each other more at that time than any other. People experiencing grief must know they are loved and have the support they need to put their lives together again.

Be the helping hand to aid those you love when they experience a loss.

But please, do not bring frozen pizza.

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