ways to help a person or family when tragedy, illness or hardship strikes their home. What to say, not to say, what to do and more
What do I say, or do when I want to help and give service?

Have you ever asked yourself?

How Can I Help, When Someone Is Sick, And Show them that I Care?

It’s hard to know what is appropriate when sickness, death, terminal illness, tragedy, suicide or any other situation of deep mourning occurs.  How Can I Help When Someone Is Sick And Show I Care? What do I do that’s meaningful?

I personally, along with my family, have gone through some really difficult and trying situations this past year and a half.  Not the kind that people always reach out and give comfort and support. Many wanted to I’m sure, but didn’t know what to say. It left me feeling feeling lonely  and sometimes with a sense of isolation from those who were once were my friends of many years.  

People, let’s call them angels, came who comforted and ‘mourned with those (us) who mourned’ showing true charity and kindness.

Natalie was one.  She handmade this card and wrote a tender sentiment inside, which I read often. 

Make sure to reach out to those who are going through hardships of ALL kinds; they need you also. 

You can get beautiful cards like this from Natalie HERE

Ways to help a person or family when tragedy, illness or hardship strikes their home. What to say, not to say, what to do and more
What do I say, or do when I want to help and give service?

What do you say– or not say is even more difficult. 

How can you actually help without the cliche: Let me know what I can do.  But actually be a benefit and relieve even a little bit of the burden for those who are struggling.  

I have ideas and tips that cover these topics and more so we can really serve others in a way that will lift those who are weighed down with all the burden of distress, sadness, worry and pain.  Bringing hope, happiness and relief from the caring and friendship that we can provide in times of need.

There are numerous conditions under which a person or a family could use help.

  • Severe handicap
  • Mental Illness
  • A loved one chose suicide
  • A death, whether old, young or newborn
  • Terminal illness
  • Hospitalization
  • Surgery
  • New baby (adopted and foster are just as much of an adjustment)
  • Job loss – long term, or repeated can be very disheartening

The reasons are many of when to help, and it’s always a good thing to take in a meal, or give some support.  The challenge is to have the courage to get some information and then act!


Now that we identified WHEN to help –

WHAT can we do if it’s not obvious?

Look hard and don’t forget to pray about it too.  Here’s an example from my own experience.

Some years back, a family in our neighborhood had a very young son who was diagnosed with cancer. Needless to say, it was a scary and trying time for also their extended family and those of us in the neighborhood who knew and cared about them.

I wanted to somehow be a benefit, but I wasn’t sure what to do, so I included it in my prayers that I’d know how to help.

After prying a little one day, I found out that the mom did not have the extra means to buy food from the cafeteria while she was at hospital; which was daily as her boy had treatments.

That was my answer!

I packed a sturdy durable bag that closed with food that could be warmed in the microwave, or eaten as it was, but none that required refrigeration.

Mainly high protein foods and a few treats.   

One particular time the mom asked me to watch her other children when she had to take her son to his doctors appointment, I arranged with other women to come in for a cleaning blitz. Older kids did crafts with her other kids while to help with their stress level and we tried to make them feel special.

It’s a cherished memory of showing love and support and even being able to involve others.

What if I SAY or DO the wrong thing?  How do I know THE BEST way to serve them?

It’s unfortunate, but a part of life. Illness, tragedy or hardship will come to one of our loved ones, or a friend, or a neighbor at some time.  And then?

  • What do we say?
  • What do we do?
  • How can we help?
  • What’s the best approach?
  • What about when the person or family has lost a loved one to suicide?

I have some tips and suggestions so that you will ALWAYS know how, when and the best ways to be of service and comfort.


Heartbreaking position for those grieving with the loss of a loved one to suicide

I thought we would talk about this one first.  It can be probably the most challenging of situations because if it hasn’t happened in our own life, we might feel inadequate in what to say, or how to relate at the deepest level of their distress.  Yes, we care and hurt with them, but knowing what’s correct in words and actions or can be overwhelming.

Instead of avoiding them, or making the pain worse with uninformed conversations, let’s learn how to better help and serve those who find them self in this tragic situation.

I found this crucial information from Support After Suicide  and Helping a Friend Who Has Lost a Loved One to Suicide



  • try not to say ‘committed’ suicide. This harks back to a time when suicide was a crime and some bereaved people find it distressing. You can say died by suicide, suicide, took their life
  • do not use clichés and platitudes to try and comfort by saying things like ‘you’re so strong’, ‘time will heal’, ‘he’s at peace now’, ‘you have other children’, ‘you’ll get married again’ or ‘I know how you feel.’ While well-intentioned, they rarely comfort and can leave the bereaved person feeling misunderstood and more isolated
  • don’t avoid the subject of suicide. This can create a barrier making it hard for them to discuss personal issues later
  • avoid judgments about the person who died by suicide such as saying they were selfish, cowardly or weak, or even brave or strong. People need to come to come to their own understanding of the person and what has happened
  • avoid simplistic explanations for the suicide. Suicide is very complex and there are usually many contributing factors
  • “I know how you feel.” We can never know how another may feel. Instead, it may be more helpful to ask your friend how he or she feels.
  • “Look at what you have to be thankful for.” Your friend knows s/he has things to be thankful for, but part of grieving is being able to experience the feelings of sadness and loss.
  • “They are in a better place now.” Your friend may or may not share your religious beliefs. It’s best to keep your personal spiritual beliefs to yourself unless asked.
  • “This is behind you; it’s time to get on with your life.” Moving on is easier said than done. Grief has a mind of its own and works at its own pace. Giving room to grieve is important in the recovery process.
  • Saying, “You should…” or “You will…” Advice-giving, especially when unsolicited, is rarely helpful. Instead, you could begin your comments with: “Have you thought about…” or “You might…”



  • be truthful, honest and aware of your limitations: acknowledge if you don’t understand or know how to react to what they are going through
  • say the name of the person who has died and talk about them. Not saying their name can leave the bereaved feeling as though the one who died is being forgotten or dismissed
  • be aware of those who are grieving who may be forgotten, for example, children, grandparents, friends
  • Accept and acknowledge all feelings. Let the grieving person know that it’s OK to cry in front of you, to become angry, or to break down. Don’t try to reason with someone over how s/he should or shouldn’t feel. Your friend should feel free to express feelings knowing that you are willing to listen without judgment, argument, or criticism.
  • Be willing to sit in silence. It’s not your job to get your friend to start talking. Instead, be willing to be present and show you are ready to listen when s/he is ready to speak. If you can’t think of something to say, you can show your support through eye contact, a squeeze of the hand, or a reassuring hug.
  • Let your friend talk about the suicide. Your friend may need to tell the story over and over again, sometimes in great detail. Be patient. Repeating the story is a way of processing and accepting the death. With each retelling, the pain lessens.
  • Offer comfort without minimizing the loss. Let your friend know that what he or she is feeling is OK. If you’ve gone through a similar loss, share your own experience, if you think it would help. However, don’t give unsolicited advice, claim to “know” what the person is feeling, or compare your grief to his or hers.

There are many resources for Suicide Prevention, as well as support for those left behind at Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Our good neighbors lost a son this way and recently it was the date of his 21st birthday.

In our community there is an 801 ROCKS UT FB group where they paint rocks and leave them in random places for people to find, which is posted when they are left, and then by those who find them.  From the FB page: are a community of people who are on the front lines of a movement to spread happiness and joy to people world wide one #randomrockofkindness at a time.

This group painted special ROCKS and left them at the grave site before my friend Cori arrived the morning of Tyler’s birthday date so she would know she was loved and the family was being thought of on that emotional day.

Rocks at the grave marker that are painted remarkably! Some with hockey sticks, hockey player or other hockey items; Tyler's favorite sport he played, some with his name, some Some have really awesome designs - all sorts of great paintings!
Showing love to those left behind when a friend or family member chooses suicide

Stan and I wanted to do something.  However, with tending the baby grand daughter and a very busy day ahead of me, I prayed about what to do, and what I could manage.  The thought came to get a birthday cake!  I called our local bakery and the decorator made this awesome cake for me.  Cori loved it, and I believe the family did too.A cake for a friend or family when a loved one committed suicide. In icing it says: We Love You Burton Family. Tyler You Will Always Be Missed. The decorations on the cake has hockey sticks and #74 for the Tyler's favorite sport he played and there are also plastic balloons, ribbon and edible confetti on the cake

Showing love to those left behind when a friend or family member chooses suicide

Showing love tohose left behind wn a friend or family member chooses suicide

You can see they received another cake which was definitely made with love.A cake for a friend or family when a loved one committed suicide. In icing it says: From our hearts you're never gone. Through our memories you live on. Together for you we celebrate. Happy 21st Birthday! Play On Tyler!

Showing love to those left behind when a friend or family member chooses suicide

Another neighbor, Christan, was incredibly thoughtful and left flowers on their doorstep on the anniversary date of Tyler’s suicide.  Cori said that meant the world to her.



This is another gut-wrenching, hard situation that occurs and we want to have the right expressions to voice our love and concern for them in the best way possible.

Here is some wonderful advice from PARENT’S MAGAZINE

1- Uncomplicated is best when you do visit: We are here for you.  We are thinking of you.

2- A person can never, ever be replaced so be very thoughtful in words NOT to say: You can always have another child.  There are hopes, dreams and opportunities unfilled that will be mourned for a lifetime.

3- A thoughtful gift would be extremely appreciated.  This miscarriage gift is beautiful

4- Don’t try to explain it away that these things happen, etc.  It doesn’t ease the pain or make sense in the time of the experience.  Just listen, don’t judge and love.

5- Use extreme caution when talking about religious views unless you know exactly how they see and feel about their current situation.

6- Do not say things like:  At least you already have another child (yes, but they wanted THIS child too!).   At least you weren’t further along before losing the baby (that does NOT help them feel better!). 

7- Don’t ignore them or pretend it didn’t happen. They will be feeling lonely, and all the grieving emotions surrounding this trial they are going through.  They need to talk, possibly even voice their hurt without fear of harsh judgments.

8- Take in a meal.  They will still be needing at least one if not a few.  Check my post:  What You Need To Know About Taking In A Meal They Will Want To Eat to serve them best with comfort.

9- Help them remember with something such as a balloon release on the baby’s birthday. A fund raising walk on the baby’s birthday to donate to the parent’s choice in the name of the baby.  Here’s a necklace to commemorate the baby if the mom would enjoy it. 

10- Continue to check in and be a friend. See how they are doing and what they need. 




A small decorated vase with a narrow opening is a great idea to take to your friends or neighbors if you are on a budget. The flowers shown are Lilies of the Field.  However, baby’s breath, mini carnations, daisies or any inexpensive flower in a smaller vase, or one with a narrow opening would be just right for both the giver and the receiver.

*If you are taking flowers or balloons into a hospital check with the staff first.

***If taking flowers, ask to be sure they are not allergic to any one type of flower.A small decorated vase with a narrow opening so it doesn't require a lot of flowers. The flowers shown are Lilies of the field, but baby's breath, or mini carnations, or any inexpensive flower in a small vase, or a narrow opening vase would be wonderful

Showing love to those left behind when a friend or family member chooses suicide

Along with the vase, there are things we can do, to reach out in a way that would be meaningful and appreciated by the person or family.


Let’s BEGIN with the emotions and physiological aspect and the ways we can be a tremendous beneficial influence in ALL  situations.


Treat them the same

It’s important to remember and treat the person, or the family as you always did.  This new diagnosis, or difficulty they are having isn’t ‘them’.  It isn’t a way to identify them, or take over their personality, it’s just the new situation or ‘normal’ for the time being.  Remembering that will help you treat them the same as you always did, and it won’t be as awkward with the new circumstances because it helps them feel ‘in control’ and somewhat their usual self.


Try to do something ‘normal’, out of the ordinary and FUN

The picture of the baby at the top of the post is one of my grand daughters when she was born.  She was in the NICU also known as the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Her brother had been in the hospital for several days before she was born which was terrifying.

Stan spent much of his time after work at the hospital with the sick grandchildren.

But when he was home, he took the other kids to Sam’s Club (their favorite) for lunch, then to the store to let them pick out their own match-box car.

When they came back to the house,  I gave each of them a few washable markers and their own empty toilet paper roll to make a car ‘power station’. They had a blast and it filled the time with creativity and imagination.

It doesn’t have to be expensive, just out of the ordinary and something THEY will enjoy.


The One day, while I had some of the grandkids, I put on the musical ‘Bye Bye Birdie’, the one with Ann Margaret. They had a blast watching something they had never seen, and dancing with Birdie as the whole town swoons.

They thought it was great fun to fall on the ground right along with the character’s in the movie as Birdie played his guitar.

Get them up, MOVING, while out of the ordinary and FUN!

Laughter is a wonderful release from the stress of the circumstances for ALL ages.
kids 1
Also, provide as much normalcy as possible in their day, by keeping them busy as appropriate.

This will provide a way for even little ones to feel somewhat in control.

They had a great time ‘helping’ Uncle Dallin clean.kids 2

Here is my son, daughter-in-law and grand daughter getting ready to come home from the hospital-

Our little NICU grandbaby was finally allowed to come home!baby 8After taking baby CPR classes at the hospital, learning how to run the oxygen machine, lots of monitoring and other devices to help our little grand daughter stay alive, our son Derek remarked:

“Who said kids don’t come with instructions.”

Always try to keep a sense of humor, it really helps in these stressful situations.

photo 6

It seems if we live long enough we will have family and friends who will face challenges of some sort that will require help.

I have complied a little list of ideas that might be useful if you are ever in the situation of wondering how to help and be most useful:

  • Keep in mind that when a person, or family are in a crisis, they may have much different priorities then before. Be sensitive to their ‘new situation’ and that ‘normal’ things may not be a current concern.  Just understand and be supportive.
  • LISTEN, do not judge or give unwanted advice. Sometimes the other person simply wants to talk and get it out in the open.  Realize it may not be how they really feel; actually, it probably isn’t. Be kind about not repeating or passing on anything that is best kept between trusted friends. Venting is part of grieving.
  • Offer to clean the house or gift a professional house cleaning service.  Do not just offer, be proactive and DO something. 
  • Sometimes when asking what you can do to help is almost more stressful because the person/family may not be able to process everything that does need to be done, such as  the real necessities. You could ask about arranging to pick up other children for school, sports, scouts, etc. That would be a great relief to the parents and family.
  •  It is critical that the family members have a way to recharge and have the energy to face the ordeal at hand. By arranging for the parents/care giver to have the opportunity to exercise, get sleep, have meals brought in and babysitting the other children would be such a relief.
  • Offering to stay with a child or family member for a few hours at the hospital to give the adult(s) time to leave for a bit, would allow them to take a moment for them self, while knowing that someone was there and their loved one wasn’t alone.  
  • A gift certificate for a massage, a facial, a haircut, a manicure, a pedicure, a movie, favorite meal, etc., would be so appreciated for them to use while a trusted friend or family member sat with the sick/hospitalized patient.

More ideas:

  • Provide rides to and from school,  or activities for other family members. Also, rides to the hospital so the children can visit the parent(s).
  • A personal planner to keep track of all the details if this is an extended situation.  THIS ONE would be a great one. 
  • Take, or send, a care package to the sick patient. Part of this could also be gift cards to local restaurants or even a way to purchase food at the hospital for the parents/adults.
  • If it is holiday time, offer to shop for them, or even arrange a ‘Secret Santa’ for the family to take the pressure off them financially, as well as the overwhelming time it can be.
  • A journal is incredibly healing.  HERE is a terrific choice. 
  • And ONE for kids
  • If it is another child’s birthday time, offering to hold the party would be a tremendous burden eased for the parent(s) so the child does not feel left out or ‘on-the-back-burner’ so to speak.
  • Grocery shop for family. If the funds are tight for them, you might want to purchase the necessities or even see if neighbors want to go in with you.
  •  Do, or arrange for, housecleaning or yard work to be done.  That’s a HUGE help.
  • If they have pets, help or provide a source to feed and walk them.
  • Take siblings out for a fun activity or babysit them.
  • If you know them well, books and CD’s that will inspire and make them laugh would be a great choice.
  • Provide THANK YOU cards and stamps for them to send out. THESE would be a fabulous choice.
  • If it is overwhelming to keep family and friends up to date of the patients treatment and circumstance. You could offer to keep up a blog or even Facebook page for them; with their approval of EVERY SINGLE post/entry
  • Help the other family members feel useful. It empowers them and takes their mind off the situation at hand.

If you are looking for ideas on taking in a meal, I have GREAT information, lots of useful tips and recipes at: 

What You Need To Know About Taking In A Meal They Will Want To Eat

I hope this post has given you tools and resources to empower you, so that you feel comfortable reaching out to anyone in need; whether you barely know them, or they are close family or friend. 

We all have ordeals to go through some time in life – that’s just the way it is. 

Having a person, an angel, who cares enough about us, our comfort, our family, to ACT and DO something selfless means more than words can express.

Copyright A Mother’s Shadow, 2014, 2018

Recognize a blessing and be a blessing today.