How can I help after a death in the family?
October 18, 2012 5:22 PM   Subscribe

The mother of the family I work for just passed away after a long illness. What can I do to help?

I babysit for a local family in the afternoons. Their mother has just passed away. The kids are 9 and 12, and knew this was coming. I've only been working for them since the start of the school year, so while the kids like me I'm not exactly a close confidante yet. What can I do to support the kids and their dad in the weeks to come? They have a lot of family and friends who've been helping out, but if there's anything I can do I want to know about it.

(Complicating matters: I have already made plans to be out of town this weekend, which might mean I miss the funeral.)
posted by nonasuch to Human Relations (9 answers total)
Food that they can heat and eat. That's always worthwhile.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:31 PM on October 18, 2012

Honestly, I think you may need to cancel your weekend plans; this is a work emergency. You can be helpful during the funeral by cleaning the house, serving food, providing child care for the offspring of other mourners, etc. Just let it be known that you're ready, wiling and able to do whatever mundane tasks like that need to be addressed. Even if the family doesn't need or want your help on those matters, you should go to the funeral as a sign of respect. Bonus karma: do it for free.
posted by carmicha at 5:44 PM on October 18, 2012 [16 favorites]

One really simple thing you can do is just to show up, and keep showing up. The kids need stability, so don't quit, don't take personal days, don't change your schedule, etc. Just keep coming back to help reinforce in their minds the thought that you won't disappear the way their mom sadly did.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:03 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree that this is a situation where if you expect to keep working for this family, you show up at the house, help out and go to the funeral this weekend. These kids may not be close to you yet, but you are an adult presence in their life and they need to know you are there to support them in any way you can and are needed.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:09 PM on October 18, 2012

Don't cancel your weekend plans. If they have lots of family and friends, then let them all pull together and renew their bonds. They may even need some privacy. I'd say that a card and a couple trays of frozen lasagna are ample expressions of your concern for the time being. Being flexible with your availability over the next few months would probably be helpful but don't get sucked into thinking that you need to be their Florence Nightingale.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:24 PM on October 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

I agree that you should continue to show up and do your job. It's a big help! Once the flurry of friends and family dissipates, the dad will likely need a reliable caretaker for the kids, and the kids will likely just want to feel normal.

You might want to touch base with the dad (I'm assuming a dad) or with one of the key friends/family members to see if there are any additional things you could do during your babysitting hours. Do they need a load of laundry done? The dishwasher unloaded? Dinner prepped? Dogs walked? Garbage taken out? Homework supervised? Just see what things can get done in the afternoon to ease this family's way in the evenings.

I wouldn't worry about the funeral if you've already made weekend plans. A formal condolence card would be a nice touch.
posted by Fichereader at 6:37 PM on October 18, 2012

I think that oftentimes during those initial few days after a significant loss, people can be in an utter daze or shock that might start to subside just as most well-wishers have already come and gone. Of course it's important to have people who are there for the family right away and who can attend the funeral - but I think it's okay if you keep your original plans and focus on supporting the family beyond this weekend.

Like bonobothegreat and Ficherreader suggest, the more you can be a constant presence in the family's life for the near future at least, the more good you will probably be doing for them. Let those kids talk about their mom months from now, make it clear that she hasn't been forgotten and that it's 100% natural that they won't have gotten over her loss after this first wave of sympathy and support has subsided - or just keep showing up to look after them while you can.

In the long haul, smaller, day-to-day things will probably be a lot more meaningful than any grand gesture you can make.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:01 PM on October 18, 2012

Call the family and ask if they would like your help this weekend. Offer to manage any needs they might have. See what they say, then make a decision from there. I would imagine such an offer will be received positively.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:29 PM on October 18, 2012

I think you should:
1. Provide food as mentioned above.
2. Definitely attend the funeral. Cancel your weekend plans to do so.
3. Contact the family and ask if and when they could use you to babysit or for any other help.
4. But, then wait a bit. My experience is that lots of people move in to support families when they lose loved ones. These people drop away after a while and I guess that is when the family will need you again. So, stay in touch and don't be surprised if you are not involved in the immediate future, but are needed again when they have to rebuild a normal routine.
posted by jazh at 1:33 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

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