Best friend's dad died suddenly. Besides myself, what should I bring?
April 4, 2014 6:57 AM   Subscribe

My best friend called me last night to say that her father had died of a heart attack yesterday. She was clearly still in shock. She and her husband drove in overnight and as soon as she calls I'll leave work to go spend the day with her and her family. I don't want to show up empty-handed. Besides food for lunch, what should I bring with me?

My friend and I are both in our late twenties; this is the first time a close friend of mine has lost a parent. I know her family well and my husband and I are honorary family members. This was a huge shock.

I will be bringing a sub tray for lunch, so people can pick at it when they want. Best Friend is pregnant and won't be eating the subs; what should I bring for her to eat? (I would ask, of course, but I don't think she will want to have to decide anything, even that minor, right now.) My husband will be making pulled pork for tomorrow.

My go-to stuff when I'm sad is good chocolate and good wine, but I don't know if it would be appropriate to bring the same stuff I always bring for their famous Christmas party on a day like this.

Basically, I want to bring things that will help them take care of themselves when they're ready to, but I don't know what that looks like. Magazines, for when my friend needs to just not think about it for a little while? Bath salts? The aforementioned chocolate and wine? I've cleared my schedule and will be at her side as much as she needs all weekend (and in the coming months), but is there any unexpected thing that helped you through a time like this that I'm not thinking of?
posted by SeedStitch to Human Relations (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My dad died a few weeks ago. My suggestion is to give her a very long, quiet and firm hug.
posted by taff at 7:01 AM on April 4, 2014 [14 favorites]

Best answer: I'd bring a pasta salad as a side dish for the sub and as something substantial that your friend might eat.

Muffins are also something nice to have on hand, easy to pick at, good for any meal. Also an assortment of things to drink. Cans of pop, bottled water, starbucks in a can.

Beyond that, no need to bring anything else, just be on hand to run errands, to pick people up at the airport and in general do the little things that need done in such a time.

You're a good friend and it's hard, but you can be of help just hanging around and patting people on the back.

I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:01 AM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh! And toilet paper. With increased company it's an easy thing to overlook.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:02 AM on April 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Some people don't want to eat when they are dealing with something like that, so just keep that in mind. I honestly think the most important thing you can do is just BE THERE. Be kind, be supportive. In some cases stepping in and taking care of the mundane household things (like dishes, making meals, babysitting, etc) can be a huge help, but for others they need the distraction of that kind of thing to get them through. Some people need to just talk and barf out all their feelings to someone. Other people need a refuge person they can spend time with where they can sort of disengage from the sadness for a short spell and pretend life is normal for a while. I know for me the harder the situation the more I want/need to sleep, so the best thing you could do for me would be to make sure I had a quiet, comfortable place I could go to sleep undisturbed.

It really depends on the person.

Basically, all you can do is show up and see what she needs.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:03 AM on April 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think yourself is the best thing, but like Ruthless Bunny said, a lot of things are going to be forgotten, so if you can be the host, that would be great. Make sure that people have things to eat and drink, and that the trash is taken out, stuff like that.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:04 AM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Bring them several nice notebooks and a box of pens. One can be a guestbook, another a log of calls and cards, a third to jot down reminders and notes.

Putting a stash of TP, paper towels, trash bags, and cups/plasticware/plates in your car so you can whip them out in an emergency isn't a bad idea.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:05 AM on April 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so sorry for your loss and that of your friend. I've been in a similar situation and it is tough. I'm also pregnant and would suggest baked goods. Deli salads (pasta, potato, tuna, etc) are on the maybe-avoid list (some people don't eat them but some do), but maybe grab some peanut butter and jelly and a loaf of bread, or a frozen lasagna you can pop in the oven when you arrive, and baked goods are good almost any time of day. Agree with previous posters about taking over some hosting responsibilities - beverages, toilet paper, hand soap, plastic cups/plates/silverware. Again, I'm so sorry.
posted by hungrybruno at 7:06 AM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

For today what about a nice salad?

The family is probably going to receive plenty of food over the next week or two. However, after that point food gifts pretty much stop, so you may want to think about brining meals, maybe just once or twice a week, starting 2-3 weeks from now. I'm similar in age to you (30) and lost my dad last year. I would have loved to have gotten some meals that could have been stored in the fridge or freezer and just reheated in the oven for those nights when I just didn't have the energy to cook.

So sorry to hear about her loss. Just be there for her, be a good friend. If she wants to sit with you or alone, talk or be silent, it's all OK.
posted by lharmon at 7:12 AM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Everyone brought over a lot of nice but hearty carbs and cakes and comfort foods when Dad passed away, so it was especially wonderful when someone brought over some fresh cut fruit: fresh pineapple and strawberries and melon and blueberries. It really helped.
posted by mochapickle at 7:13 AM on April 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

A lot of the point of bringing food is, the bereaved end up with a house full of people. But you can assess that need later.
posted by thelonius at 7:21 AM on April 4, 2014

Seconding fruit. Does your friend read trashy magazines at all? Having something to mindlessly flip through can be soothing when you're overwhelmed, so that could be very much appreciated. Make up a big jug of cold lemon water (or cucumber water, or mint and ginger water) when you get there, too, and keep it in the fridge. It's all too easy to get overheated and dehydrated.
posted by nerdfish at 7:37 AM on April 4, 2014

Tissues (decent ones).

A pack of takeaway containers to store and/or freeze food that arrives in other people's dishes and impractical size portions.

A big old blank Funeral Invitation spreadsheet if the family are not the kind of family that will already be making such a thing.

Research into potential venues/caterers/suppliers for funeral arrangements. I found that driving around looking at funeral venues was horrible and would have greatly appreciated anyone saying "oh, the XYZ is just down the road from the Crem and is pleasant and does not smell". I would still have gone and checked it out myself but I would not have had to check out all the other nasty unsuitable places I went.
posted by emilyw at 7:39 AM on April 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The first thing I thought when reading the first part of your question was really good quality chocolate and wine, so I think that's a good idea. Just don't get the same brands you normally get for the Christmas parties. That's what I would want my friends to bring me (assuming I drank, that is)- that and lots of hugs. Secondly, I would bring some healthier food options. If I was pregnant and grieving it would really stress me out to have lots of sandwiches and cakes around and no salads and protein heavy foods because then I would have to worry about eating badly because I wouldn't go out of my way to get other food.

I don't think that there'd be much else to bring besides a lot of love. If she knits, maybe some pretty yarn to help distract her from the pain. Make it clear it's for later not necessarily for right now.
posted by cacao at 7:45 AM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think you should skip the wine since she's pregnant.
posted by Dansaman at 8:05 AM on April 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Aluminum foil, freezer bags, paper towels, disposable storage containers. When my dad died, someone brought these for us and one of my friends quietly packed and stored the leftovers of all the food that people brought, freezing some and leaving some in the fridge.

Oh! Also a sharpie so you can write on all the containers what's inside.

One of the amazing things that someone did for us (I'm still not sure who), was put boxes of tissues, bottles of water, and hard candy on our seats at the church. We absolutely needed them, and would never have thought to bring them ourselves.

Soda, water and alcohol are always good too.
posted by elvissa at 8:16 AM on April 4, 2014 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Wait until you're there, and then assess what's needed. You are the most important thing to bring right away, everything else can wait.

Everybody guesses about what's needed, which is really nice. Except when everybody does that and assumes someone else has surely brought X, so there's too much Y and not enough X. Three bereavement books? Why thank you for being thoughtful. Can I trade two of these for some pens?

Each family reacts differently, and each situation is unique. Don't assume they're incapable of simple decisions until you can determine that yourself (and I wouldn't bring a pregnant woman random food at all - the smell of lettuce (!) and nacho chips made my vegetarian wife nauseous during her second pregnancy). Find out if there's a clear-headed person there, and ask them directly what needs to be done. If there isn't someone clear-headed, or they don't know what to do, take over the role yourself until someone better/more appropriate comes along.

Above all, don't "be there" for your friend. People who are just "there" are in the damned way. Do something useful or get out of the way.

(I've lost both my parents within the last five years, so this is from my experience.)
posted by GhostintheMachine at 8:55 AM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Jigsaw puzzles. One easy and one hard.

Any stories you can think of about her dad or their family, their relationship, etc. Even trivial things.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:02 AM on April 4, 2014

Best answer: You could show up with the mindset that you're going to be the person to Run Out and Get Some of whatever's needed.

Park in a way that lets you leave quickly (if meeting at your friend's house with a bunch of people, don't get parked into the driveway by other cars, etc.) and be aware of where the closest grocery store, pharmacy, and/or Target are.

When I am at my lowest, something like running out of coffee for company could easily make me cry (not that there wouldn't be crying anyway). If a friend noticed I was out of coffee and quietly took care of it for me, it not only would solve the problem, but would be a touching gesture I would remember forever.

Of course, screw the coffee if your friend just needs you to sit with her. You'll know when you get there.
posted by jessicapierce at 9:03 AM on April 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Nibbly food. (A friend and I refer to this as opportunity food) - things you don't need to think about prepping to eat. A veggie tray or bag of baby carrots and dip, cherry tomatoes, stuff that doesn't need any special attention. Pre-sliced cheese and crackers. Hummus and pita chips. Maybe some hardboiled eggs. String cheese sticks. Adjust for their tastes.

I really like the disposable storage container idea. Also paper plates and bowls, because even if there's a dishwasher, you're going to have people in and out, and sometimes it's easier to just have something you can hand someone and not think about the dishes.

The other thing I'd see about is putting together a little kit of stuff that might be needed, but no one is going to remember where it is. Couple of notebooks and a dozen pens (as above). Pair of scissors. Sharpie marker or three. Masking tape. Scotch tape. Some safety pins and/or ribbon and/or embroidery floss/string so you can easily stick a label on something in varying ways. Post-it Notes. Maybe some plain paper or cardboard handy, in case you need to do a quick sign for something.

One of the weird things about post-death chaos is that you often end up having to do all sorts of weird tasks that are out of the usual line of household habits (make a sign for the person who's meeting you for funeral planning that you might be in the back porch, and can they call, whatever, need to label this casserole that only half the people in the house will eat, need to label this dish to go back to that friend.) Having everything handy in one place for that kind of task helps.
posted by modernhypatia at 9:38 AM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: N-thing food and basics that it won't be a problem to have extra of--coffee, tea, TP, tissues. Storage containers for the invariable leftovers will also be good.

Your friend and her family may not want to eat/may not be hungry, but they will still need to eat. From my experience with an unexpected death least year, we ended up having to assign people to bring food and sit us down to eat at mealtimes, otherwise we'd end up shaking and faint, which does not help dealing with grief and the endless details of dealing with a death at all.

Your friend may need help making choices regarding the venue, services, etc-- grief can totally decimate executive function, which can mean that someone asking open-ended questions like "what can I do?" or "what do you need?" will just get a blank stare. Presenting simpler choices might be more useful, like "do you want green tea or black tea?", "do you like Venue X better than Venue Y?".

And yes, you'll need to assess additional needs when you get there. People respond to grief in very individual ways, and sometimes extreme grief and shock can mean that someone's response is really uncharacteristic. I'm normally a fairly decisive, organized person, and I had trouble making decisions. And I'm not normally a big public emoter, and while I managed to keep myself together during the public service, I completely lost my shit in front of a houseful of friends. So try to let people process how they need to process. We tried to basically say "do whatever you need to do as long as it's not hurting yourself or someone else". Try to let your friend and her family show you what they need and follow their lead, even if it's different than what you might have imagined or planned. If your friend says "I can't stand to look at all this food, throw it out" don't try to talk her into putting leftovers in the fridge after the service, you know? Grief is weird. Don't try to make it make sense.

On preview, I love modernhypatia's kit-of-stuff idea. Sharpies and bluetape for labeling food/containers/dishes is especially brilliant.
posted by Kpele at 9:41 AM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When my dad was in the hospital I put together a beef stew in the slow cooker and left it on the counter for folks to serve themselves. Leftovers went into the freezer for my stepmom to pull out as needed.

Or, a couple of trays of chinese food are good (I ate tons of stir-fry when I was pregnant & newly-delivered; just try to get food that has no msg).

Sorry to hear of your (& your friends') loss.
posted by vignettist at 10:04 AM on April 4, 2014

The most helpful thing a friend ever brought to my house while I was grieving and trying to get a grip on funeral planning was xanex. Sure your pregnant friend won't want to take a sedative but her mom or siblings might benefit. Grief is exhausting.
posted by dchrssyr at 10:57 AM on April 4, 2014

Best answer: Also, personally, the most helpful thing for someone to say to me when I'm grieving or otherwise struggling is, "How are you holding up?" It acknowledges that I'm having a hard time, implies that they want to help, and is open-ended enough that I can respond however feels best at that moment.

I've asked other people this, in their terrible moments, and their answers tell me a lot about what they need from me right then. Your friend might want to cry, or do anything other than cry, or hug, or not be touched any more, or totally deflect the topic and talk about a silly tv show for a minute, just for some emotional relief. You can't know until you ask.

(Similarly, this thread is a good read.)
posted by jessicapierce at 11:11 AM on April 4, 2014

What everybody is saying is right, and you will be a great help if you can show up and be the "go run errands" and the "hey, let me grab you a granola bar and some water" person.

To elaborate on the jigsaw puzzle thing:
I found jigsaws to be very helpful when I was going through something similar. A jigsaw puzzle is an activity you can leave out on one corner of the dining room table (or in a side room), and eople can drop in and work on it for a little while when they need a quiet break; anybody including distant relatives or whoever shows up can work on it without prior decisionmaking/tasking. People can sit next to each other working on it without needing to talk but still being together, or, if they want to talk, it gives everyone a trivial concrete thing to talk about. It has a defined what-to-do-next that is low stakes, but you can feel like you're making progress.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:45 AM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Since from your profile you're in New York and not in Minnesota, I'll skip the hot dish option. (Seriously, if you ever go to a funeral in Minnesota, you simply have to bring hot dish or bars. I think it's a law of thermodynamics.)

To be honest, having been in this exact situation, you're already bringing the best thing you can bring, and that's you. It's not about stuff, it's about support.

Anecdotally, a close friend's dad who had a massive part in my upbringing died really suddenly more than a couple of years ago, and she's told me several times that just being available to help made a massive difference.

Anyone can bring stuff. Bring you.
posted by Sphinx at 6:02 PM on April 4, 2014

Best answer: I think it's wonderful that you're able to drop everything and be there for her.

As someone who was among the first in my peer group to lose parents, I'll say that one of the harder secondary effects was losing friends. Granted I was significantly younger than you and your friend, but I think a lot of younger people have no context for this, want to help but don't know how to be present or connected, get spooked about their own parents' mortality, etc, and then feel guilty and distance themselves.

I think an amazing thing you could do for your best friend is to help her stay connected with other friends, who aren't as close as you or not as flexible with their jobs/lives as you are. You're in a great position to ask your friend who are her friends who should know, and then *you* tell them, and *you* help guide them as to what they can do (card, flowers, phone call, e-mail, funeral, etc), and then *you* follow up and help them with that. For months I could barely bring myself to say out loud that my mom had died, and needless to say, if you can't share a huge part of your life with people, they can't be close or supportive even if they'd want to be.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:58 AM on April 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers, everyone. I actually found myself wondering if this stuff was common knowledge or if some of her family members had read this thread and that's why they showed up with toilet paper and notebooks and markers. The family will not need to buy paper goods for a long time.

My friend grew up near where I live now but is living six hours away by car; few people in her new city knew her dad. My husband and I are talking about planning a trip to see her sometime between now and when her baby is due (staying in a hotel) just so she has an outlet to talk to people who knew her dad.

Thanks, also, for the kind words of condolence in a shitty time.
posted by SeedStitch at 5:26 AM on April 9, 2014

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