How to Offer Support to Grieving Families

As we are waking up to this news of another overdose death, can I please offer some advice?

First, most families will not want to discuss the intricate details of ‘what happened’ though most people seem obsessed or even entitled to know. The families in these early stages are still trying to process and believe ‘what happened’. It’s not your business to ask them. Though if they choose to talk about it, or want to, if you can handle it, let them.

500 messages asking “What happened” is awful and not helpful. Though, 500 messages of how sorry you are, or how wonderful your child is may save your life. Acronyms have never felt more offensive than they did getting them within minutes and hours of getting the news about Jeff. OMG and WTF messages were very upsetting to me. If you message the family member and they don’t respond, whatever you do, do not hound them for a reply. I literally had people doing this to me – demanding to be told what happened or to whom.

If you by some chance learn of the information early on. Remember, it is not for you to share with the world until the family has done so. Most of my family found out because someone posted RIP on my son’s wall before I was even notified of his death. In fact, before his body was even removed from his apartment. His brothers, father and best friends all learned of his passing from a facebook post. It’s NOT your news to share. Wait until the family posts before you post a name or information on social media.

If you don’t know what to say, the best thing to say is, I’m sorry or, I’m here for you. Or, I’ll listen to anything you have to say.

The most comforting thing is to hear about your child. Tell us a story, tell us something they did. Tell us why you’ll miss them. Tell us what you’ll miss about them. Tell us the last happy time you saw them.

Saying, “if there’s anything I can do, call me” is not helpful at all. Immediate family members in severe shock and grief have no idea what to ask people to do and can’t orchestrate volunteers and phone calls. If you want to help them, just find a way. I’ll never forget friends of our family showing up to clean my house and mow my lawn. People brought us food all week and thank god because I never would have been able to make a meal. A friend made flower arrangements to put on the tables at Jeff’s picnic… Another friend stepped in and orchestrated his picnic, many others people worked at his picnic all day and two stayed behind and managed all the clean up. Someone even showed up and brought a huge pack of toilet paper and tissues. I don’t even remember who, but it was incredibly thoughtful and believe me, I wouldn’t have thought to go to a store for anything. These were the gestures that helped us survive the first two weeks. I don’t know what we would have done without this kind of help.

And just going and sitting with them and letting them reminisce is helpful.

The following phrases are not comforting for most people: God has a plan, God must have needed him more, his struggles are over, time heals, it will get better with time, he’s at peace now… at least they were not helpful for me. Whatever you do, don’t compare the loss of a child to a pet… or even a parent… it’s really not the same, only similar.

And absolutely NOTHING about their cause of death, other than ‘you’re sorry’.

And don’t forget the children of, siblings, grandparents and close friends. They need comforting too. It meant a great deal to me to see my youngest son’s friends coming to spend time with him, taking him for a walk, fishing, whatever. He needed that too. And I know I was incapable of comforting my mom, so if I saw someone sitting with her and talking to her, that truly helped me.

I think everyone has good intentions, but it gets tiresome for someone who has just experienced the unimaginable to have to make that excuse for others over and over. Since it probably IS true that everyone has good intentions, it’s good to just try and align those with what is truly helpful.

And keep checking on them… for months… years…

Much love, Alexis Pleus mom of Jeff Dugon forever 28.

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