Practical Alternatives to Sending Thoughts and Prayers
What to say when you don't know what to say
Discussions about grief can be challenging. There are several things you’ll want to consider before reaching out to grieving friends, and many people end up falling back on traditional phrases to navigate loss without creating further discomfort. While simply reaching out and being supportive is appreciated, there are some alternatives to traditionally used condolences that can prove much more useful and beneficial to the person you are trying to comfort.
Here at Lantern, we understand that navigating personal grief and the grief of your loved ones can sometimes feel like an insurmountable obstacle. By taking on simple tasks, you can help relieve the burden on friends and family members as they manage difficult times. Here are some practical alternatives to sending condolences in times of loss.
Practical Alternatives for Personal Loss
It has long been a tradition to send flowers after a loss, along with a sympathy card. While flowers can show support, they can also add to logistical stress for the family, and they don’t always represent your personal relationship with the deceased or their loved ones.
Additionally, flowers are not always appropriate depending on the faith of the deceased and their family—for example, in the Jewish faith, sending flowers after a death is not recommended. There are other alternatives that can prove more useful to those in mourning that you will want to consider.
Food and Resources. In the early days of loss, the family is likely experiencing a sense of overwhelm. In addition to having to plan memorial services, they also need to close accounts, navigate estates, and inform others of the loss.
Beyond logistical challenges, however, those in grief can struggle with personal tasks like cooking dinner or ordering groceries. Bringing over food for their home or giving gift cards to local restaurants can relieve some of the daily stressors and ensure they are eating and staying healthy.
You’ll also want to consider other resources like paper plates or laundry services, so their home stays clean while they focus on what really matters.
Childcare and Eldercare. Navigating grief emotionally and logistically is challenging on its own. When an individual is also balancing the responsibilities of childcare or eldercare, it can feel extremely overwhelming. If you are in a position of closeness with the family or have helped provide them with childcare or eldercare in the past, this can be an especially supportive way to help.
It’s important that you assess your relationship with the family to decide if it would be appropriate to offer childcare coverage. You also have the option of offering babysitter or nanny financial support if they already have a childcare team, so you can provide them more time to focus or simply grieve in private.
Donations and Cause Supports. There are a few things you’ll want to consider when it comes to donating in honor of a friend or loved one, but if the family requests donations, it is a lovely and thoughtful option. If they have a particular cause or the deceased believed strongly in something, giving support to that organization can have lasting benefits for generations.
You may find that the family of the deceased could use support in planning and paying for the memorial service. If you are close to the family and feel comfortable asking, consider creating a fund for funeral expenses or to help provide for the family. As with childcare, it is important to consider your relationship with the family before doing so in order to avoid overstepping.
Memorial Service Logistical Help. Planning a funeral or memorial service can be very challenging. In addition to the logistical complications, there come the emotional ones. If you are close to the deceased’s family, offer to field some of the work and responsibilities that come with informing others of the person’s passing, taking calls and condolences, and making decisions for the service. Lantern’s checklist for managing a death will take you step by step through the necessary tasks.
You’ll also want to let your friend or family member know that you’re available over the phone as well. Even if they don’t necessarily need your help at the funeral home or their house of worship, you can still aid them in making challenging decisions and navigating the first few days of well-wishers and visitors.
Navigating individual loss can look a little different than community or tragic loss, but there are still practical and useful methods of showing support and working together to help those who are grieving. Here are some you’ll want to consider.
Bring Your Community Together. If your community has suffered a loss, it can help to share a celebration of life or a memorial event together. It’s a chance to show support and love for one another and the town or community you live in. Speak with town representatives and plan an event that allows you to share memories and stories and honor those who have been lost.
Raise Money. Raising money in honor of your friends and loved ones can help to keep their memories alive and ensure that their impact on the world continues for years to come. It might be a cause dedicated to preventing further loss or simply an organization that represents the kind of people they were. Either way, raising money together can help to bring your community closer and provide you with a sense of peace and hope after experiencing loss.
Create Lasting Memories. Lasting memorials can be an excellent way to honor those who have been lost while representing the unique relationships they shared with friends and family. That might take on many forms, like the creation of a mural in their honor, a quilt, a community garden, and many others.
When you come together with your community to create lasting art and beauty that honors those who have passed, you ensure that their memory is placed into the foundation of the town or community.
It also allows you and your friends and family to gather in solidarity and support to create, grow, and build together. This can be essential for managing grief and finding a sense of peace. You’ll also have a place to return to in honor of the person you love, where you feel the support of your friends and community.
Develop a Community Support System. Grief does not go away overnight. A community in grief will manage their experience with loss in both the long and short-term, and it will vary for every individual. When you create community support systems, you provide access to the help they might need in the initial days of loss and further down the line. Here are some things to consider when developing community support systems.
Resources and Financial Support. As with individual loss, community loss can have an impact on our health and our homes. Reach out to those in your community, school, or place of worship to deliver food, giftcards, cleaning services, and other resources that can help families navigate grief while still taking care of themselves.
You may want to put together care packages for those who are grieving or set up an online resource for them to go and find the food or financial support that they need.
Emotional Support. Emotional support and grief counseling can take many forms, but developing grief support systems is a practical alternative to sending condolences that can help your community begin to heal.
You may want to begin by speaking with grief counselors or providing information on support groups. An open discourse about loss online or in-person can also be a safe place for people to share their feelings and find support and hope within their communities. Consider connecting those who are grieving with individuals who have volunteered to listen or spend time with them.
You may also want to plan events and activities that don’t center around grief specifically. Sports events, art therapy, and time spent in nature can all help to provide a sense of normalcy and support for your community.
Sending thoughts and prayers can show a person that you are thinking of them and their loved ones during a period of loss or grief. It is a kind way to express your sentiments and appreciated by the family of the departed.
But if you are looking to provide a more practical alternative to thoughts and prayers, you have many avenues that will offer support, guidance, and relief. Support comes in many forms, from providing food and household help to finding grief counselors and therapists who can guide your community forward.
Consider your relationship with the family of the deceased and how you can offer them useful and loving gifts. It’s important to avoid overstepping, so tread lightly, but show you are there to support them at every stage.
You know your friend or loved one best, so consider the practical alternatives they need to thoughts and prayers that you believe will be most helpful, comforting, and supportive to them.