How You Can Help – The Friend’s & Family Guide

WRITTEN BY: Michelle Page-Alswager

As I drove the grueling 30 minutes from my meeting back to home where my world had ended, I han’t begin to explain the thoughts that ran through my head. There was a surreal thought process – it almost felt fake – like, you know when you just “try” to imagine the worst happening to you, try to envision losing your child and you wonder things like “what would it be like”? Well, it actually felt like that exactly. It was unreal. I can’t remember every moment or exactly the chronological order.

But I do remember very well that I called a handful of people. First I called my partner when it was suspected (by me) that something was gravely wrong with Jesse. I called and told him I was concerned, that maybe he should leave work – I was starting to panic. After calling jesse’s father and hearing the worst – that my son wasn’t breathing and the EMTs were working on him, as hard as it was I hung up – to call in reinforcements. It’s a blur. It’s madness. It’s brutal. Those are the words I feel as I write this.

I told Jesse’s father to leave the line open, that I was calling for help. Help? I don’t know, I just knew I had to reach out. I called my partner, immediately – I know I was screaming, I know I wasn’t making sense, I know I was screaming that Jesse was dead.  He hung up without letting me finish.  I was also freaked out because my cell phone was low on battery…I couldn’t imagine if I were to lose communication.

I then called my friend, Sandy. I knew she was someone I needed there to help me. The next call was to Amy – someone who proved almost like life support to me over those awful months. Lastly, I called a coworker, Laura, to make sure they were updated – why did I do that? I still don’t know. I went into some kind of “protect yourself, you are going to need help” mode. Julia – the old neighbor – always there for me – called.

I can’t imagine what was going through all of their heads. Not knowing what to do either. But somehow, they did know what to do. They picked me up and didn’t let me fall.

So instead of guessing what was going through their heads, I asked them to tell their story here, for you. And this is what they said.

Things you can do to help someone you love:

1 – Be present

Don’t find excuses not to help. I know it’s hard, I know it’s difficult to deal with this, but we need you. Even if we say “I don’t want anyone around,” we want people around. It’s necessary.

2 – Organize a memorial fund

Especially at the loss of a child, chances are the family did not have money put aside to pay for a funeral and expenses that go along with it. Don’t ask, just DO. Get a memorial fund started so people have a place to donate immediately.

3 – Plan a memorial event

It may seem sudden but for us, it was not only cathartic to be with so many people who loved Jesse outside of a funeral, but it raised a lot of helpful funds.

4 – Funeral planning

Make sure they are planning the funeral by contacting a funeral home, making sure there is money to put down on the funeral, find a church, etc.

5 – Let them talk

and talk … and talk … and talk … the more they talk and grieve the better.

6 – Answer the grieving person’s phone for them

The phone is exhausting. People mean well but to tell what happened over and over is painful and brutal. Tell it for them.

7 – Plan the food at the funeral or the home gathering

The last thing people can do is cook or entertain, as eating alone can be a challenge. Organizing this would be a big help.

8 – Put a slide show together and picture boards

You can do this on Apple products by uploading or selecting photos on your laptop and into a folder. Then hit play, and see the selected photos rotate in a slideshow. Other options include printing the photos and collaging them for display at the funeral or in the home. Photo books or creating memorial Facebook pages are also options.

9 – Do not say “call me if you need me”

We will not call you because we don’t know what we need. We need you to sense what we need and jump in.

10 – Put away items of the person they love

You don’t have to go “crazy” here, just put away school forms left on the table, or car keys, or a note they left – anything that is recent and obvious. Do not throw these items away, just hide them for a bit. Don’t box up their room or anything – that’s for another day and time of the grieving person’s choice.


Read I Don’t Care Your Cat Died – What Not to Say in Grief.