How You Can Help a Grieving Person Before the Funeral or Memorial Service

Before the funeral or memorial service, you can expect the grieving person to be emotionally distraught, distracted, and disoriented. One of the most helpful things you can do is to take some of the tasks off his or her plate. By taking responsibility for one or more of the person's responsibilities, you will be giving the bereaved space to grieve and less to worry about.

Act as the coordinator

After a death, there are many different things that the person will have to take care of. Working with a funeral director, arranging the interment (burial or cremation), planning the funeral or memorial service, and grieving are just some of the things that a grieving person will be managing. If you are a close friend or family member, it can be helpful to offer yourself as a “coordinator” for a specific aspect of the planning process.

This coordination can take the form of:

  • Coordinating any guests coming in from out of town
  • Managing and coordinating any food or meals that are brought to the bereaved or the family home
  • Manning the home phone, and taking messages on behalf of the bereaved
  • If there are any young children, coordinating their care, feeding, and playtime
  • Aiding in event planning for the funeral or memorial service
  • Helping the bereaved prepare for the funeral or memorial service and making sure that he or she has appropriate clothes to wear

If you will be acting as a coordinator, it's your job to listen to people's needs, set aside your judgments, and get things done. Don’t overwhelm yourself; delegate tasks to others, but know that you’re ultimately responsible.

For advice on how you can help the bereaved make funeral arrangements, see our article How You Can Help a Grieving Person Make Funeral or Memorial Service Arrangements.

For advice on how you can help the bereaved prepare for the funeral, see our article How You Can Help a Grieving Person Prepare for a Funeral or Memorial Service.

Coordinate out-of-town guests

People often come from far away to attend funerals and memorial services, and coordinating the arrivals, accommodations, and transportation of out-of-town guests can be a lot of work. Offer to pick people up from the airport, train station, or bus station. Offer to provide transportation to a particular out-of-town guest for the duration of his or her stay. If many guests will be coming into town, contact a hotel and try to block out a group of rooms at a discount. Or offer to host guests at your own home. If there will be many out-of-town guests, you might also offer to coordinate meals, either at restaurants, the family home, or your own home.

Manage or coordinate food or meals for the grieving family

Food is one of the most common gifts given to a grieving family. Often, people prepare food and bring it to the family home in personal dishes or containers, or bring in prepared food from a restaurant or deli. Managing the food—finding space in the refrigerator or freezer, keeping track of which dishes or containers belong to whom, making sure there’s a balance in the types of food being delivered, remembering who brought what—can be a real challenge for a grieving family. You might offer to handle the coordination of all food gifts, keep track of who brought which foods and in which containers, and mark food gifts with the date on which they arrived to manage freshness.

If the family lives in a house or in a suburban area, you might also consider setting a cooler outside the house so that people can drop off food for the family without having to disturb the family. If the family lives in an apartment building with a doorman, you might leave a cooler with the doorman to accept food deliveries.

To set up a meal registry online, use our resource Guide: Meal Registries.

Help around the house

After a death, even routine chores can feel challenging to someone grieving. There will be many household tasks that need to be taken care of, and those grieving may not feel up to the task. Offering to help with this housework can take some of the pressure and stress off of the family. If family members wish to do these chores, for whatever reason, be sensitive and yield to the family’s wishes. For some people, engaging in mundane and routine activities can be a source of comfort.

Answer the phone

After a death, the number of phone calls to the family phone can be overwhelming. Offering to answer the phone when it rings, acknowledge the caller and thank him or her for the call, and take detailed messages can be a huge favor for the family.

Watch children

Children need to be given particular attention in emotionally tumultuous times. If a child’s parents are grieving, they may not be able to attend to the child as best they can. Offer to take kids to the park or to a museum, or stay with them at home and play with them. If you can’t spare the time, hire a babysitter for the family, or coordinate care among friends of the family.

Care for pets

Offering to care for pets—changing kitty litter, walking the dog, feeding the fish, cleaning a tank or cage—can go a long way to reducing the stress the bereaved may be feeling.

Prepare the house for visitors

If the family will be receiving guests at their home before or after the funeral or memorial service, the house will need to be prepared. This may include cleaning the home (washing or vacuuming floors, cleaning surfaces, taking out the trash, straightening up), stocking the home (making sure there is enough toilet paper, paper towels, garbage bags, and tissues), preparing to feed people (purchasing paper plates and napkins, plastic utensils and cups; purchasing beverages and prepared food), and making sure there is enough space and seating for all guests who will attend.

For advice on how you can help the bereaved make funeral or memorial service arrangements, see our article How You Can Help a Grieving Person Make Funeral or Memorial Service Arrangements.

For advice on how you can help the bereaved prepare for the funeral, see our article How You Can Help a Grieving Person Prepare for a Funeral or Memorial Service.

For advice on how you can help the bereaved during the funeral, see our article How You Can Help During a Funeral or Memorial Service.

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