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No Right or Wrong Way

A friend called to tell me that her best friend’s mother had died in hospital alone of this dreaded virus. My friend was deeply upset.  She had known the lady since her childhood.

What was causing her most distress, was that she couldn’t at this point go to the friend, to offer comfort and support. To follow the traditional norms.   She was unable to attend the funeral.  Her friend couldn’t attend her own mother’s funeral either.

This for most of us, is unprecedented.  It is cruel.  A funeral is the point we come together to offer condolences, to grieve, to remember, and sometimes to laugh at those memories. 


When my dad was seriously ill fifteen years ago, and in hospital, I didn’t live near my parents,  I would have to fly back home to see them.  I was in the fortunate position to be able to do this most weekends. 

One weekend I spoke to the sister of the ward.

‘Would I have time to get back if my dad took a turn for the worst?’ I asked.

Her answer was the most important advice I was given. From her years of experience, she told me,

‘You can sit at his bedside for 24 hours a day for the next weeks or months, and go to the bathroom for a few moments, during which time he may slip away.’

‘Thank you,’ I replied, feeling some relief. 

 ‘Now is the time to have any conversations you might want or need to have,’ she added very gently.

 I felt very blessed to have a few more days with him.

I wasn’t with him when he died, one of my brothers was.  This was the right person to be with him.

This was my first adult funeral.  I watched as others cried, it felt like an out-of-body experience.  

There was a sense of relief after the funeral, we didn’t have to ‘host’ any more people coming to offer their condolences.  We could get on with our own grieving.


Just recently, as I was sorting through old papers and cards, I found several handwritten letters and cards that I had been sent offering me condolences.  

I sat with them, reading and thinking.  They were beautiful.  I wondered how difficult they had been to write. We often don’t have the words to say. We don’t want to say the wrong thing, in case it adds to the anguish.  

Reading those letters and cards filled me with peace ...
Fifteen years later, I felt deep gratitude to the people who had taken the time to write ...
The words didn’t matter ...
It was the thought ... 
They had taken the time to write ...   
Grief doesn’t stop at the funeral ...

Talking to another friend about these unprecedented times, she shared a similar story. 

It is a tradition to go for a meal or a ‘wake’ after the funeral. 
Making polite conversation ...  
It’s what is expected ...  
Or was ...   
We need to change that, or rather we are being forced to change that ... 
Our culture,
  people turn up with lots of food,
    others drop in to offer condolences,
      a wake is held to enable people to share stories and memories ...
Flowers are sent,
  cards too ... 

So, at this time, what can we do when someone we know loses someone.

  1. Forget worrying that you’ll say the wrong thing. Write that letter or card.  Maybe they won’t be able to face it all, but at some point, they will.
  2. Instead of flowers, plant a tree in memory. In Scotland the Caledonian Forest is being replanted, or the Woodland Trust plants trees in memory.  And it is cheaper than sending flowers.
  3. Around the time of the funeral, there are lots of people around, it can be smothering. It is the weeks and months later, that the loneliness kicks in.  A phone call then, or a coffee or lunch, maybe most appreciated.
  4. For kids, maybe writing a story of painting a picture that will help them create a memory.
  5. Sending a food order, that will help to see them through without having to tackle the shops.
  6. Being patient. Whilst you will want to help, but your friend may not know what they need. Just let them know you are there to support.

I remember telling a close friend, that no experience or words could explain the feelings and emotions, the roller coaster ride that the weeks had been. Until it happens to you, you just don’t know how you will react or what help you need.

If this happens to you, asking for what you need maybe challenging. You are dealing with your own shock and anger. Others may not meet your expectation of what they should do. They maybe doing their best, but that falls short of what you want.  

These are unprecedented times, the norm is no longer. 

If you find yourself in this situation, know that others want to support you.   

For all of us, it is the part of this horrible situation, that is the most unknown.  

There is no right or wrong answer to what to do. 

We must just do our best and hope that is enough. 

There will be time to come together and to share the grief, until then we shouldn’t shy away from making that call or writing that letter.

Thank you to Barbara for this very insightful and helpful perspective. These are tough conversations to have at any time but so needed right now.

  With love, Lynda

If you are finding things difficult please reach out and talk to someone. It is tough, any change is difficult.

Barbara and I, and many other people around you, will do what we can to support you. Please reach out. Ask for help. Talk to others. 

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