Drive-By Chili: A Tale of Good Grief Support Boundaries
Cards, flowers, and gifts showed up at the house as word got out that my mom had passed away. Friends, family, and neighbors offered support and assistance while I reeled from the grief that was completely new to me.
I received a text about two days after she died.
"I left something on your doorstep. Sending all my love."
I opened the front door of my house to catch a glimpse of a car speeding out of our driveway. There was a small bouquet of flowers, and a steaming hot pot of chili.
Though I felt guilty that my friend felt she couldn't knock on the door, I appreciated the drive-by chili. I didn't want to entertain. I didn't want to talk to anyone who wasn't as devastated as I was. I didn't want anyone to get a glimpse of me at a time when I felt so unstable.
The Gift of Good Boundaries
There is a true value in bringing meals for your grieving friends or neighbors. This small act of practical kindness can help the bereaved as they make funeral plans and navigate the shock of a loss. However, not all people are comfortable with this kind of gesture.
There is a tendency for well-meaning people to try to "take over" when someone they love is grieving. But showing up unannounced to provide care for someone can be intrusive, and overbearing for those who wish to mourn privately.
Offering practical support is important, but there are some other things that grieving people need.
Though some folks seek the support of friends and loved ones when a death has occurred, others prefer to mourn their dead in private. The pressure of making financial, legal, and memorial arrangements is intense in the first weeks and months following a death. Those responsible for these duties do need support, but they also may need time to themselves. This can be unnerving for those who want to make things better.
Sometimes the urge to help those who are suffering from a recent death is so strong that well-intentioned people forget about boundaries. Bringing a meal is a thoughtful way to show support, but maybe that's not what is needed. A grieving family with lots of support may already have a full fridge from others who've offered condolences as well.
If you're going to bring a gift, try not to impose on the person's space by lingering too long. Don't expect an invitation to stay, and don't be offended if they don't seem as gracious as usual.
We're taught to treat people the way we want to be treated. Though the spirit of this message is to be kind to others, everyone has different standards of what being treated well means. If the person asks for no flowers, declines a meal delivery, asks to be left alone, or rejects an invitation for a heart-to-heart, respect their wishes. Grief manifests differently for everyone, and you can validate that expression by supporting your friend, neighbor or loved one however they need.
How Much Support Should I Offer?
Whether or not you know someone well, it's always okay to send a bouquet of flowers to someone who is in mourning to offer condolences and remind them that you are thinking of them. It's important to show that their grief is important, and that you care enough to at least mention it.
Equally important is knowing your place in their life before reaching out. Your level of support should match the relationship you have built with the grieving person prior to the tragedy. One common error folks make in an effort to be supportive is going overboard. Empathetic people tend to offer a lot of support, as it pains them to see another in emotional pain. Remember never to offer more than you can actually give, or else you could be doing more damage by letting a grieving person down.
Whether you and the grieving person are close friends, family members, or acquaintances, think carefully about how you offer your support. Loss has the power to bring people closer, but it's good to check with the individual about how much or little help they need and want.
Is your act of kindness going to support folks through the actual grief they're experiencing? Or are your gestures a performative show of support? Are you helping or intruding? These questions can all be answered by checking in with the person and asking.
Don't ask if there's anything you can do. If you have a specific idea in mind, like bringing over a batch of homemade chicken noodle soup, give your loved one a call beforehand to ask if it would be welcome. Never turn up unannounced to deliver a gift, unless you are on those terms with the person. Think twice even if this is your relationship — you may inadvertently intrude on a private moment of grief.
Sending flowers or a card may seem like an impersonal show of support, but remember: You can't fix someone's grief. Sometimes, a simple gesture is all you can do to remind someone who is going through a hard time that they are loved.
September 17, 2020
This is excellent advice for someone mourning the loss of a loved one. Remember, time does not take away the hurt or loneliness.