Velinda, back again to talk about fun ways to make moody pillows work in a layered space!…. strike that. I LOVE a moody pillow and swear by a layered space. But this year, shit.got.real. And while I’m so grateful for the distraction of design projects, I’m finally truly playing catchup on the LAYERS of grief that I (and I’m sure many of you) have been facing. So why not make a ‘roundup’ of it? Round….down? Round-and-round-and-round… If you’re here with me in this state of ‘day-by-day’, you get it. We’re all unwilling participants in this pummeling process. Or….
Maybe you aren’t. Maybe you scaped by unscathed… still, I’m 95% sure you probably know someone who is caught in a whirlwind this/last year. Honestly, this post is probably MORE for you, my lucky friend.
I’m writing as a not-thrilled-to-be and yet ever-grateful expert on the topic of “Grief Gifts”… here to assist you well-intended Helpers who just Googled something like, ‘how to support a friend whose dad had a psychotic break after having seemingly recovered from Covid’. Okay, that’s not even a joke… That truly was a search of mine last night. What the ACTUAL ‘F’?
So a quick summary of why I’ve become the expert…
#1: I have the most amazing friends/support system who have SHOWN me what has helped, what has ‘cheered’, and what has been simply life-saving.
#2: Life handed me some SHIT the last few years… and I know I’m not alone.
Since this post isn’t intended to be about my lessons/life/loss, I’ll provide just a quick summary. (and that, ,my Loves, is an excuse made by a writer who STILL can’t actually write about the loss of her mom now two years later). For three years, I watched my mom endure the knockdowns, many surgeries, and eventual withering that comes from a diagnosis of stage 4 ovarian cancer. And then she finally died. Exactly a year later, the weekend we were sprinkling her ashes in the ocean as she had requested, my wife and I had to put my diaper-wearing, 18-year-old best friend down. He was a Lhasa-Apso mix with a severe need for orthodontics who had been with me from leaving high school through getting married… Which brings us to the most recent blow…. This pandemic year has, seemingly, ended that marriage. My wife and best friend let me know I was no longer her truth. But considering that happened just a month ago, you can expect more details ‘soon’ when I’m able to finally write about that in, oh let’s say, 6 years from now? So, stay tuned. But truly, the grief is deep, layered, current, and probably too depressing for a design blog.
Instead of diving in there, why don’t we focus on something hopefully a bit helpful for any of us Googling how to help our friends through some really dark times. There are so many ‘what to get for Christmas/baby showers/weddings….’ But all in all, when it comes to loss, well, we’re a bit at-a-loss.
So, here’s a rundown of the support and gifts that I found incredibly helpful during the (please, Lord baby Jesus) worst of it:
Cleaning The Refrigerator/Sending A Cleaning Service
We had incredible food-support in the final weeks with my mom, but making room in the refrigerator and knowing when a dish may have expired was a job… one taken on by lovely friends, who sorted, repackaged, and labeled food with dates. That ‘simple’ task was a mountain for us to climb at the time… which can be the same for keeping up with cleaning. Extra support here can be pretty hard to turn down.
Massage/Pampering/Bath Gift Cards Or Gifts (Hygge… Slippers, Robe, Candle Etc Etc)
Trying to cope/heal can take a serious, physical toll. Any physical comfort can add just a bit of relief. In these Covid-times, massages may not be readily available, but bath teas, candles, and other cozy-softness may help make your grieving friend breathe just a bit easier. Oh! And weighted blankets actually seem to help anxiety… at least they do mine.
Here are some I recommend:
1. Organic Bath Bombs | 2. Dr Teal’s Pure Epsom Salt Soothe & Sleep Lavender Foaming Bath | 3. Weighted Comforter | 4. CBD Jasmine + Rose Bath Tea | 5. Weighted Blanket | 6. Glacier Candle | 7. Slippers | 8. Kush Queeb Black Magic Relax CBD Bath Bomb
A ‘Badvent’ Calendar… For The WIN
This was a stellarly-creative idea from one of my friends. She made it. It’s basically an ‘Advent’ calendar, but for the darker times. Each little drawer had a treat and a small note of encouragement, which gave just a little bit to look forward to every day for a month. And it’s a gift to keep giving, the idea is to refill it and pass it along to the next friend in need, when the time comes.
The Anti-Anxiety Notebook
This was a recent gift from another friend and I’m loving it so far. It’s a short, journal prompt each day with the goal of identifying thought patterns and reframing narratives over time. It’s created for very easy use by a couple of therapists. I’ve been a ‘let’s dig in’ journaler of late, but I find I use this book on the days I’d ‘like to be’ journaling, but find myself busy (or too emotionally-avoidant) to do so. It’s quick and easy.
A Schedule (Regular Hang/Calls/Support Group) – Something To ‘Look Forward To, Count On & Anchor The Seemingly Endless Week
THIS! Don’t have funds? Showing up is free… doing it regularly is life-saving. I have a few women in my life who have started a weekly check-in/accountability group since my separation. Knowing that regular meeting is there helps fend off fears of isolation. I also have a few friends who plan (even remote/distanced!) weekly hangouts/games/walks with me. A weekly or even bi-weekly, scheduled ‘date night’ or other plan puts much-needed markers & joy in the slowly passing weeks of grief.
Food (Duh, But SO Helpful)
This may not seem like a creative idea, but EVERY single time someone has shown up with food through these series of events, it wasn’t only something appreciated, but usually necessary! Ordering groceries became impossible at times…. Much less planning a balanced meal & preparing it. Many times, I forgot to eat, unless someone handed me something. One thought, IF there is a meal train in place/multiple people providing ‘comfort food’, consider offering something lean/fresh/healthy as an alt. It may not sound as exciting, but a clean meal can be a good break from the ‘southern comfort’ menu. But also, donuts never hurt a thing in times like these! So, no hard-and-fast rules here.
My mom lined her walls with cards and letters in her final days. They meant so much to her. I still have a simple, hand-scrawled note left by my Seattle-bound sister on my fridge, telling me ‘how strong I am’ and ‘how loved I am’. And my adult neighbor HAND-DREW a card with vegetables planted in the ground ‘rooting’ for me. The extra time/thought of a hand-made/written note can exceed the sympathy text/social media likes unimaginably-so!
A Walk To Accompany Your Visit (Move That Body… Masked And Distanced Options Still Avail During Covid Times!)
Only in the last knock-down have I discovered how easy and healing this added, physical layer of a conversation can be. Obviously, it can be helpful to talk through trials with friends… But doing so while taking a stroll outside (even an easy one) soothes the brain/body and, at least for me, restores hope in a new, ever-evolving world so much more than sitting on a sofa can do.
An Air Mattress/Sofa/Place To Which To Escape
Your friend may need a fortress and/or a ‘babysitter’ at times. A change of scenery can do wonders when grief has you otherwise stuck. Just opening up your home for a night or weekend, even if you don’t have ‘plans’ or ‘things to do’ can be more than plenty. Sitting on a different couch may be the only relief needed at times.
Now, I get this tip may currently be limited only to people in your ‘pod’, but brighter days are coming. This pandemic will end! So, have those cots for your friends ready!
A Playlist Of Songs
It’s so easy, thoughtful, and (pretty much) free. A great way to help your friend feel-the-feels, dance it out or just have something new to discover!
An Endless Supply Of Receiving Calls & Checking-In
Hot Tip! Grief lasts so much longer than we realize. Social media love is always nice, but an antiquated call (or Marco Polo… or whatever app the kids are using) is a stand-up way of being a caring ear. Extra points for listening to the same story 10 times because you call so often.
Avoiding The Question, ‘What Can I Do/What Do You Need?’
I still fall into this, so don’t shame yourself too hard when you do ask… But if you can avoid the question and just TRY something, you’re alleviating work for your grieving friend. Or ask another friend of the family/make a point person. For the griever, it can be too much to manage/they may have NO idea/they feel too burdensome to be honest to begin with… If you don’t ask anyone and just take a swing, it’s somewhat unlikely to be a strikeout!
A Commissioned Piece Of Art
…Only if said person is ready to CRYYYYYY. But as a designer, I have to encourage a ‘piece’ like this. I have one of my own thanks to my best friend. Seriously, MonstrKiwiArt somehow captured my furry-friend’s SPIRIT. I. Love. It.
Calendar Reminders To Check In On Important Dates… Far Beyond The Crisis
Remember that ‘Hot Tip’ about grief lasting longer than we realize. Well, your friend is going to look ‘okay’ eventually. They’re going to tell you they’re ‘okay’ eventually. And then BAM, a birthday, death-day, holiday, or used-to-be wedding anniversary (etc) swings past just to give your friend an ANNUAL punch in the face. ‘Okay’… no longer. If you’re there to have their back in ANY way for these lingering smack-downs, kudos to you… you could be one of few!
A Potted Plant/Succulent!
I personally have loved every ‘non-living’ flower too (gold stars will still be granted for those)! But I learned from a family member that flowers can be oddly-upsetting when they start to die. So, perhaps, think longevity. I still have an indoor, potted plant and succulents in my garden (that came nestled within some cut flowers to be planted!) now two years after receiving these gifts.
Contributing To A ‘Meal Train’ (Apps Available)
…And extra points for starting said train. There are apps to make this easy. Want to make sure your family/ friend has a steady flow of food without waste or repeated nights of ravioli (though is there anything wrong with that? Never)… get coordinated. Give in Kind, Meal Train, and Take Them A Meal are a few of what I’m sure are many app/site options to aid the effort.
Videography Services… These Don’t Have To Be Fancy And You Don’t Have To Be A Pro
This one may be tricky/potentially non-universal. I don’t recommend you shove an iPhone in the face of your crying friend. But if there’s a subtler or permissioned way to document final moments/life celebrations, etc. it could be worth an offer or quick capture. You may even save these to share MUCH later. I had a friend offer to come record footage of what we knew would be our last Christmas with our Mom, which turned into a bit of a final QA session as well. My foggy, stress-filled survival-brain would have NEVER remembered the stories behind each family-made ornament she gifted me that night or the questions we made up on a whim. But we have VIDEO. We also have a video of the day we sprinkled her ashes in the ocean, thanks to a trusted family friend.
Have I had ANY desire to watch these yet? NO… have you not picked up on my avoidant tendencies? But I’m incredibly grateful they exist when it’s time.
Rose Quartz is said to heal the heart. Ohm bowls generate vibrations to elevate meditation. Sage & Palo Santo can clean old energies. Energy healers/yoga sessions can help release the trauma the body stores etc, etc. These are fairly safe things to gift… but you can potentially get even bolder… your friend in transition may be more open than ever. Know a great tarot reader? Have you had a great experience with a psychic? Carrying some link to a vortex? Why not share. I mean, you know your friend better than I do and this may go against certain religions, so tread lightly, but I can tell you I have a tarot reading this Saturday thanks to a reputable friend, so I’ll report back 😉
Drugs & Alcohol
When all else fails, bring the whiskey! Or… a safe sleeping aid/CBD sleep gummy, etc. Now don’t tempt your sober friends… But HOT TIP: I’m not sober… someone please send the WHISKEY!
If you’re grieving right now, know you’re not alone. I’m here with you, and others are here with us… One day at a time, friends. Accept the love and support. It may soon be your turn to give it. If you aren’t grieving, give the love and support, it will eventually be your turn to accept it. Grief is a bastard-cycle, not just through stages, but one that eventually embraces us all. Let’s carry each other.
If you’re still here, I’ll leave you with a final gift to give… To me/To my Mama. Every year for her birthday, my love-spreading mom requested this from anyone who would listen: “Do a random act of kindness in her honor and only ask the recipient ‘pay it forward’. Love people.”
Opening Image Credits: Photo by Sara Ligorria Tramp | From: How To Style Out Your Outdoor Space So You’ll Actually Use It (No Matter How Big Or Small It Is)