My friend's dad just passed away. How can I help him?
January 2, 2011 8:58 PM   Subscribe

My friend's dad just passed away. How can I help him? What can I do? I live couple thousand miles away from where he is. Can you give me some suggestions? Is it bad if I start compiling list of government agencies or funeral homes for them to call? What else I can do?
posted by Carius to Human Relations (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Call your friend and ask if there is anything you can do. Something he may take you up on, and that you could definitely help with as a friend of the family, is offering to call people and let them know of his passing. It can be hard for families to call the many friends and distant relatives who need to be alerted of a death when they have a lot of arrangements (and grieving) of their own to make.
posted by phunniemee at 9:06 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Was the death expected or unexpected? Does your friend have other family? It's usually best for you to ask first (ask your friend, not us) how you can help, rather than jumping in and doing things that may seem weird or overbearing or even unwelcome.
posted by amyms at 9:08 PM on January 2, 2011

Response by poster: The death was unexpected. He contacted me and told me the news. He has a girlfriend to rely on but he told me he don't know who else to turn to.
posted by Carius at 9:13 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Also this just happened so he's still in shock, I doubt he's in the condition to even know what I can help the family even if I ask.
posted by Carius at 9:18 PM on January 2, 2011

When my mother died, about 2 years ago, I had far away friends who offered to help, but really, there was nothing for them to do. I appreciated the offer, but their ability to assist was limited. And that was okay. I did not think any less of them for not helping, nor did I particularly expect them to help in material ways. The expression of sympathy, and the offer of assistance, was enough for me.

I bet if your friend can think of something for you to do for him, he will ask you to do it. If he can't right now, just being available if needed will be the most helpful thing you can do.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 9:18 PM on January 2, 2011

Best answer: Talk to him.

Seriously, just call him and talk to him every couple of days/weeks.

There's nothing task-related you can do to help from several thousand miles away. If there was, he'd bring it up.

He'll be going through a lot, and for a while. The death of a parent, especially a sudden death, can cause a lot of upheaval in one's life. It can put a damper on everything.

Just be there for him. Call him, talk to him. Just bullshit with him. If he wants to open up, he will. It's ok to ask him questions, but don't push him too hard. If he's not forthcoming, talk about your stuff.

It's a fine line. Just be there to talk and shoot the shit, let him know that you care & that you're thinking of him. Perhaps you can make plans to meet somewhere on a mini-vacation in the near future.

It's good to know you have friends in your corner, even if they're just rooting for you and nothing else. Be that guy.
posted by swngnmonk at 9:29 PM on January 2, 2011

The best thing you can do is just be a supportive listener at this point. I'm sure your heart is in the right place in wanting to do something, but "compiling lists of government agencies and funeral homes" is really not a normal thing for you to be doing (unless specifically asked to do so), especially from a thousand miles away, and especially if he has a girlfriend there to help him.
posted by amyms at 9:31 PM on January 2, 2011

Ask him if there's anything you can do. If he can't think of anything, tell him you'll send a huge bagel basket to the family home (his mother's?) where the family will be gathering. The last thing his mother needs is to cook for guests or worry about food. Bagels work for all three meals and keep a good long while.

You could also organize his friends who you know (are you college friends, for example?) to chip in for a floral arrangement, that's a nice thing to do. Or simply send your own. Once they choose the funeral home, you can call the home and ask if there are florists they work with. They'll usually give you a couple of names.

You can also just call or text and check in with him once a day and let him know you're there to listen, full stop.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:31 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

It seems corny, but a big basket of food and whatnot can be very helpful. My coworkers sent a big nice basket of crackers and cheeses and the like to my family when my mother died, and it was really nice to have when we were stressed out or tired and needed a little food. A better gesture than flowers, in my opinion; we were stuck desperately trying to get rid of bunches of arrangements before they all died.

Other than that, just let him know that you're there. Even if he doesn't need your help for anything, it's good to just know that people have you in their thoughts after a loved one passes away.
posted by whitneyarner at 10:16 PM on January 2, 2011

The funeral home stuff usually gets taken care of pretty quickly, so he may not need that info anymore. My aunt found my uncle had died in his sleep early last year, and within an hour or two at most, the coroner had been by and the funeral home had picked him up. (I know this because my dad had to go to the house and release his body, my aunt had never technically married him though they'd been together 18 years.) It was unexpected too so they hadn't had anything planned out. Also, they (funeral home) may not be willing to talk to anyone but next of kin in terms of arrangements.

Be there by phone, offer your support. Offer to have food delivered. Food is good, especially (in my experience) the day after the funeral when they wonder how to begin with the rest of their lives. (In my family, there's usually a dinner following the funeral, and it's usually potluck.) Do ask first.

I'm sorry for your and your friend's loss.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:13 AM on January 3, 2011

Carius - I wish you and your friend strength, this is awful. It won't all apply but have a scan through the wonderfully helpful answers I received to a similar question last year.

Take care.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 5:15 AM on January 3, 2011

Best answer: My mom died somewhat suddenly about six months ago. Three friends for whom I will be eternally grateful simply kept in close, regular touch, were willing to have sometimes very mundane conversations, and didn't act like tragedy is contagious. It was a real comfort to me to know that the rest of the world was carrying on -- it gave me hope that I'd be able to do so as well. The people above who say "just be there" have it, especially swngnmonk. Keep it up beyond this immediate period of time, too -- it gets harder before it gets easier.

I'll be honest -- I do not think as fondly of good friends who asked if there was anything they could do and then were silent, presumably waiting for instructions. Hell, I didn't know what *I* could or should do.
posted by gnomeloaf at 5:37 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

"A better gesture than flowers, in my opinion; we were stuck desperately trying to get rid of bunches of arrangements before they all died."

So you know, many funeral homes and some houses of religious worship will make arrangements to have all the flowers sent to a hospital or nursing home after the funeral. Usually the family picks out a few to take home or to put at the gravesite, ensures they have all the cards and know who sent what (some funeral homes even record this, with pictures, for you), and then the funeral home has them donated to a place where they can brighten someone's day.

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:54 AM on January 3, 2011

Just be available, there's not a lot that you can do to hasten the shock and greif to follow. Be as supportive as you can be considering the physical distance in between. Just listening can be far more helpful than anything you could send.
posted by samsara at 6:46 AM on January 3, 2011

Best answer: My mother died last week unexpectedly. People want to help, but other than calling and checking on me, there really isn't anything they can do. Everyone says, "if there is anything I can do, let me know", but that puts the burden on the person who had the loss. If you offer something make it concrete like offering to come out and help with funeral arrangements or bringing over a meal if you're close by or simply asking questions about the person who died to allow your friend to talk about them.

Here are some of the things my dad and I have had to do, in case you feel like you can offer to help with any of them:

Call her friends and family to let them know she passed away
Plan a service
Meet with the mortuary to arrange cremation
Clean out her things for donation or to give to her friends
Call to get bills changed to my dad's name
Notify trust lawyer of her death and executor of will
Cancel her cell phone, future appointments, credit cards
Pay bills
Get multiple copies of her death certificate to give to any companies who need it to close accounts
Contact insurance company
Contact her pension company, social security
Go through piles of paper to find important account information, documents
Gather documents for final tax return
File claims for her illness with Medicare supplemental
posted by cecic at 10:58 AM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't suppose you knew his father, did you? If you did, don't be afraid to talk about him (depending on your sense of how your friend is doing). When somebody has a loved one die, often people feel awkward about mentioning the dead person to the people left behind. It can feel as though everybody's trying to erase the person and pretend they never existed, and can be very painful for the people grieving their loss.

Some months after my mother's death, a friend of mine sent me a card saying something like "I was just looking out the window at the trees in the yard and thinking about your mom." That meant a lot. (I'm getting sniffly now just typing this. Foo.)
posted by Lexica at 6:16 PM on January 3, 2011

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