Good Neighbors in Bad Times

Brad Carter, CCC’s former director, used to say that people can be in a neighborhood for years without ever knowing who’s doing the living and dying next door, across the street, and down the block. He was right.

Nobody likes to think about death, or dying, or any of the activities associated with that, but obviously, it happens. You’ve been meaning to get over to a particular neighbor’s house and introduce yourself, but you just haven’t done it yet. But one day, to your sadness, you notice a wreath on the door, and lots of people you haven’t seen before are going in and out of the house, with lots of cars up and down the street. What should you do? And if you go, what should you say?

Here’s a little secret – almost nobody knows what to say. But we should go anyway. And while I am certainly no expert, in the spirit of “neighborliness,” let me offer a few thoughts about some ways we can be a good neighbor at such times.

  • DO go visit them. When we lose someone we love, often we just need to know that others have noticed. A simple, brief visit is enough to convey that sentiment.
  • DO take some food. People often say they’re too upset to eat, but what they really mean is, they’re too upset to worry about preparing something to eat. And it doesn’t have to be fancy, or even homemade. A bag of chips, sandwich stuff, maybe a pan of brownies – these will be deeply appreciated.
  • DO make a memorial donation to their family’s favorite charity or local church. It doesn’t have to be a large amount – this is a case where it really is the thought that counts. A gift of even $10 or $20 in the deceased’s name is always deeply appreciated.

And on the other hand,

  • DON’T worry about what to say. All the eloquence in the world is not as important as simply being there. Just introduce yourself, mention that you are a neighbor, and say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” If they want to talk, by all means, engage in the conversation with them, but don’t feel like you have to keep on making small talk.
  • DON’T say, “I know how you feel.” This is not about you. Later, if you and your neighbor become friends, there will be plenty of time for sharing feelings. And it’s probably best not to ask a lot of questions. Again, if they want to talk, they will.
  • DON’T feel like you have to stay a long time. Five minutes is better than 30. This is not a social call, and the idea is simply to share a kind word and acknowledge their loss.

Losing a loved one is never easy. But just knowing that people around us notice and care can mean so much. So please, don’t be afraid to reach out – you may never know the difference you will make to someone who is hurting.

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