10 (Practical) Ways To Help A Friend in Grief

If you’re here only for the penny pinched deals, bear with me through this one ~ this is a LONG post, but was on my heart today! 


As I shared earlier this week, my husband lost his dad a week ago today, and we’ve all lost truly one of the best men I’ve ever known.



While it’s still fresh in my memory, I wanted to share a few (amazing!) things friends did for us that made the grief a wee bit more bearable this week. More than anything, I want to remember how to bless someone in these same ways when they go through a difficult time too.


So often, I don’t know what to do when someone is suffering, but these simple (practical!) acts of kindness have tendered our hearts and meant more than we ever could have imagined right now. 


Here we go. 

1. Help with their kids.

When we got the phone call last Thursday night that James’s dad was struggling and we needed to get there, several neighbors offered to help with our kids. (We weren’t quite sure that we all needed to make the seven hour drive as this last year has been a whirlwind of physical struggles for Don, so two of our three had stayed home to finish up finals and end of year activities.)


Immediately one neighbor let our youngest spend the night, a group from my son’s Young Life program came over and just hung out with him, and another dear friend (who doesn’t even know our family all that well!) offered to drive my kids to the airport once we found out while driving to Kentucky that he’d passed away.


Beyond that, this sweet friend brought my kids goody bags to have for the plane flight, prayed with them before they flew out, and promised to stay close to the airport until she knew they were safely in the air.


Taking care of someone’s kiddos during a time like this was an AMAZING gift ~ I can never express what it meant for this momma to know her children were taken care of! 

2. Bring a meal.

As soon as friends and church members found out that Don had passed away, the food started coming in (it was amazing!) As we had 30+ close family members there over the weekend for the services, it was a huge blessing not to have to figure out what to feed our bunch (especially in a small town without tons of restaurant options.)

Here were a few specific items that were special blessings to us over the weekend:

  • Paper plates, cups, napkins, plasticware, paper towels
  • Water bottles and soda
  • Breakfast foods – homemade is great, but swinging by Sam’s or Costco works perfectly too
  • Fresh bread (because our friend Mrs. Deaton’s bread is well known in all of Marshall County as the absolute best sourdough bread on the planet, I had to share a shout out for that one. Bring. the. bread.) 🙂
  • Turkey/ham sandwich “fixins”
  • Fresh fruit
  • Ham sandwiches (someone made simple sandwiches with Sister Schubert’s rolls ~ they were perfect)
  • Italian beef (another church member brought this by and it worked perfectly because it feeds a ton and everyone loves it)
  • Barbecue
  • Pie 🙂 our friend Mrs. Colburn brought by what had to be the very best lemon meringue pie I’ve ever eaten. When I told her how perfect it was, she credited Mrs. Edwards’s for that lemon meringue pie. (Y’all. You do not have to make the pie. Let Mrs. Edwards make it for you.) 🙂 
  • Toilet paper (I know that’s silly, but you do NOT want to run out of TP when there are 20 people mulling around a 1 and 1/2 bathroom house. Ummmmm…. yikes.)

3. Offer your home or guest house to extended family members.

If by any chance you have a spare room in your home (or a guest house?) offer it for extended family members to stay. It was a huge gift to our family to know that everyone had a bed, and we were so thankful for the lake house that a sweet friend of my sister-in-law offered us!


4. Take care of their pets.

Our neighbors offered to care for our dog which helped so much ~ we ended up boarding him at our local boarding facility, but my neighbor took him there so we didn’t have to make an extra trip.


5. Help during the funeral & visitation.

James’s dad’s visitation was Saturday night (the funeral was Sunday), and some of our sweetest friends from Alabama drove four hours to be there during some very difficult hours for us. Because they knew Don was pretty loved by everyone in the community, they came in completely knowing that they would be there for HOURS, but our friends Stephen and Sandra stayed for the long haul just to be there for James.


Whenever he could without stopping James from a conversation, Stephen ran over and asked James what he could get him ~ soda, water, gum ~ whatever. I think just knowing a friend was there comforted James as he literally stood between his mom and dad during the viewing, and meant more than they will ever know to James. (And I was blessed to get to spend extra time talking to my friend Sandra too!)


There were also several families from the church who checked in on us to see what we needed during the services. One dad with a daughter Reagan’s age offered to take she and their daughter to Hardee’s during the visitation, my dad and mom took my girls to Dairy Queen after they paid their respect (they ate a lot during those 4 hours ~ eek!), and people picked up purses, brought extra Kleenex, and carried plants when we needed them to.


Members of the church also helped with funeral arrangements, contacting ministers to conduct the service. One sweet man even stopped by to take all the trash to the dumpster, because he knew it would be more than could wait until the next trash day. (I would never have thought of that, but it helped us so much not to have to worry over the trash. Such a small act of kindness but an incredible gift!)

6. Show up. 

Like I said, a few of our friends families from Alabama drove four hours to be with us during both the funeral and visitation (even though they’d never met James’s dad!), in addition to the hundreds of local people that came to honor Don. Our friends Tim and Misty came and stayed with us through the funeral and graveside service, and just having them there meant more than they could have ever known. They helped us get a meal ready quickly before the funeral, chatted with James’s mom for a bit to make her feel more at ease, and took a tour of James’s childhood home. It meant so very much to our family to have them there!

My parents also drove four hours to the service without any expectation from us at all, and it was such a gift to know so many people loved this man (and us too!) One of the men in James’s church who’d known James since he was a toddler just took the time to talk with James and let him know how special he and his dad were to him ~ such a small act of kindness, but one that will never be forgotten.

7. Send flowers (or plants.)

As someone who normally doesn’t like spending money on extra “stuff”, I have to say, the beautiful plants and flowers that people sent to our family meant so very much to us (I was so surprised by how much we appreciated them!)


There were several gorgeous flower arrangements (the PPP team even sent the most gorgeous hydrangea bush!) and I loved that people were so thoughtful to think so much of us during this difficult time.

If you’re like me and not so sure about sending flowers, here are a few things that were extra special to us:

  • Send houseplants ~ when I was talking to my sister-in-law she mentioned that she’d gotten houseplants when her grandfather passed away, and twenty years later still has those plants and remembers her grandpa each day when she sees them. Such a wonderful way to remember someone
  • Send windchimes ~ Don loved windchimes, so those meant so very much to us
  • Send a bush that can be planted outside ~ we loved the hydrangea bush from the PPP team, and have seen families give roses, gardenia plants or small trees to honor their loved one
  • Send the flowers ~ I had no idea how much just seeing beautiful flowers near Don’s graveside would mean to us, but they totally were a gift. If you’re like me (and a true penny pincher at heart!) you may not see the gift in this unless you’re in that situation, but they really do mean so much.
  • Send an edible arrangement after the funeral. We received one today from our sweet neighbors back at home and it completely brightened our day (thank you Sarah & Ryan!)
  • And of course, if they ask for an “in lieu of . . . ” gift, that’s an incredible way to honor a family member too


8. Mow the lawn.

One of my husband’s co-workers offered to come to our home and mow the lawn (during Spring in Ohio we have to mow at least twice a week!) While we made it home in time to take care of it ourselves, it was an incredible thing to think of that I normally would have forgotten.


9. Water the plants. 

10. Make the phone call. (Or send a card, an email, or even a text.)

We feel sooooo incredibly blessed by so very many this week, but our friend Stephen (who’d already driven forever over the weekend!) went above and beyond and texted me to find out when James was on his way home from work this week, so he’d be able to call and just talk to him on the way home during his hour long drive (every day during the drive James called to talk to his dad, so I knew this time was going to be hard for him.)


Just doing something to let people know you care is such an incredible blessing, and it can even be just a text or email checking in to make sure you’re doing okay. I’ve received texts from some of my dearest friends who just want me to know they’re thinking of our family (along with a note that I don’t have to even respond!), as well as dozens of emails, Facebook messages, and comments from PPP readers, which has been an incredibly gracious gift to me!


Whatever you do, if you know someone who’s struggling today, think of a practical way that you can lighten their load as they struggle through a difficult time. Even if they don’t have the energy to say it today, I promise you’ve gifted them more than you know, and your small act of kindness will be as much a blessing to you as it is to them.



I’d love to hear your suggestions on what to do when going through a difficult season ~ what other ideas do you have? Leave a comment to share ~ I love hearing from you! 


On a side note, the PPP team TOTALLY hopped on board and took care of EVERYthing for me here ~ emails, messages, my scheduled posts, SO MUCH stuff. I can never repay them for what a gift they gave me to completely take the weekend off for my family ~ I’m so blessed each day by these sweet ladies!  And, I know there have been SO many people and gifts that we’ve gotten and I forgot to mention, so for whatever you’ve done for us, we are so blessed by you (just tired and forgetful after a busy-sad-hard-but-blessed-and-thankful week!) 

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  1. Laurie,

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your father-in-law. Praying for your family.

    So many of the things that you listed were also done for us, after our 2 year old daughter died. People thought of everything. The only thing that I’ll caution people about is not to turn the stove top into counter space, with food and paper goods. This happened to us and 5 wks after losing our daughter, our babysitter was with our 18 mo. old so that we could take our older boys out for a bit, and she went to make mac-n-cheese, but accidentally turned on the wrong burner, where a stack of styrofoam plates were,and started a house fire. Praise God she got our daughter out safely, and material things were just pretty inconsequential, on the heels of burying our child. But just a cautionary tale

    • Oh Wen – I’m so so sorry for your loss ~ I can’t even imagine losing a daughter and know your pain has been unbearable! Thank you for pointing out how important it is to make sure to keep the house safe when bringing food and other items, I wouldn’t have thought of that. (So glad you all were okay!) Sending hugs from this side of the computer screen today, what a difficult road you’ve had! 🙁

  2. Denise Shallenberger says:

    When my hubby passed, our funeral director who is a close friend of our family, had a tree planted in memory of Denny. He also sent me a beautiful rose on the year anniversary of his death. Those were so special along with all you listed above. I will always be thankful to God and everyone who touched our hearts through that journey. My prayers are with your family. ❤

    • Oh Denise ~ what beautiful gifts those were to honor your husband! Thank you for sharing those suggestions, I love them and know they’ve meant so much to you.

  3. I too had a loss in the family this week. I am so sorry for your loss. One of the cards we received had several sheets of stamps. I thought that was so very clever! We could start thank you cards without​ having to go to post office.

    • Oh Shelly – I’m so sorry for your loss as well! I so love the suggestion to give a sheet of stamps though, what a thoughtful gift to bring. Thank you for sharing that!

  4. Laurie,
    I’m so, so sorry to hear about the passing of your father-in-law. Please know how much we participants of PPP care and are praying for your family.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words Myra – we are so thankful to have an amazing group of folks praying for us each day (such an amazing gift!)

  5. Diane irwin says:

    When I think about losing my dad I think about the people on the other side to welcome in home. His whole family was waiting for him and I know it was a happy day.

  6. Charissa Jones says:

    Im so happy you had such a great support system. I pray that God will comfort you every day and that your family will be closer. Know that you are loved…

  7. karen b says:

    Laurie, have already left messages on other posts & facebook but wanted again to say praying for your & your family. I’m sure your mother in law is feeling a huge loss so praying for her also. Sending (((((hugs))))) ♥

  8. Cathy P says:

    I’m so sorry for your Loss, Laurie. I’m so glad I read this. My nieces 1 month old daughter passed away on Tues and I was trying to figure out what I could do for her and her family. I now have some great ideas. Thanks. ❤️❤️

    • K Julien says:

      A very important and not very often thought of with the loss of a baby, say her name for the rest of your life. Never let her mom think she has been forgotten or the loss is less somehow after time. She will always know exactly how old her child would be and will never looj at a child xlose to het age that she won’t wonder about her baby girl. And the support may be good right now at the loss but check in in a month and 3 and 6( i had trouble functioning and always appreciated food for my husband) Especially if there are siblings. One of the best things someone did was just sit with me. Silently. Not forcing me to talk or taljing to fill the silence. Just sat shoulder to shoulder. Sorry this was long. I lost 3 parents, 2 friends and 2 children in the same 3 years, for me the child loss was so very different compared to a person who has lived a full life.

  9. I’m so sorry for your loss, Laurie. July will be 3 years since my dad was called home. Another suggestion that a dear friend touched our lives when my father passed away, she placed some Bibles thru the Gideons in my dad’s name. I just cried when I opened the card telling us this. So very thoughtful.

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