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Acts of kindness: Just being there can help someone in time of grief

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Acts of kindness: Just being there can help someone in time of grief

From my kitchen window Monday morning, I watched my neighbor walk slowly down her driveway to get he
Acts of kindness: Just being there can help someone in time of grief
Unsure how to ease a grieving neighbor's pain, Gazette reporer Kelly de la Rocha made the woman heart-shaped gingerbread cookies. Family friend Catherine Melilo is shown cutting out the heart shapes.

From my kitchen window Monday morning, I watched my neighbor walk slowly down her driveway to get her newspaper, knowing she would find her wife’s obituary inside.

Her partner of 25 years had lost a battle with cancer, and it tore my heart apart to think about it. I wanted to do something to help take away her pain, but it’s so hard to know what to do.

I’ve always enjoyed spending time with this neighbor, but we’ve never had that come-in-without-knocking kind of relationship.

She has so many closer friends, and judging from all of the cars in her driveway lately, they’ve all been there supporting her.

The other day, I got up my courage, made a batch of heart-shaped gingerbread cookies, and brought them to her door, my husband and another neighbor at my side.

The house was buzzing with friends putting together photo collages to display at the upcoming calling hours.

She smiled when she saw us.

I handed her the cookies, gave her a hug and told her we were there to help however we could.

She thanked us for coming and told us she couldn’t have gotten through the past few days without all of her friends there to support her.

I asked if there was anything we could do to make things easier for her.

She said, “If you don’t see me out in three weeks, you know I’m hibernating, so come and get me.”

Being present

I walked home wishing I could have somehow done more, but found comfort in the words of a hospice worker I’d recently spoken with.

“The most important thing is the courage to be present in someone’s life who is coping with death and dying,” Sarah Etkin-Sefcik, bereavement-services supervisor for The Community Hospice, told me. “I think it takes great courage for us to actually be present in that person’s life and, I think, offering, and continually offering, to be present is important. Just because somebody initially may say, ‘I don’t need anything, I’m OK,’ remember to keep making that offer over time, because what we know about anticipatory grief, and just grief in general, is it’s a process, and there’s no specific time frame.”

Etkin-Sefcik told me there’s no perfect thing to say or do in a situation like this, and to be open to however the family is coping with the loss.

Sometimes doing little things for a person who’s mourning without being asked can be a good idea, too, she said.

“When you ask someone who is grieving or is coping with the anticipated loss of a loved one, you ask them, ‘What do you need help with?’ and a lot of times, they’re going to say, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know what I need help with because I’m so overwhelmed right now with everything around me.’”

So I’m thinking about what I can do to help and I’ll be watching for signs that my neighbor is hibernating.

Reach Gazette reporter Kelly de la Rocha at 395-3040 or [email protected] and on Twitter @KellydelaRocha.

Update

When Carmen, a retired nurse, stopped showing up at the Schenectady Inner City Ministry food pantry, reporter Kelly de la Rocha, who volunteers there, wondered why. She paid Carmen a visit and found her in need of assistance. After writing about Carmen in last week’s paper, five volunteers came forward to see if they could repair her broken dryer.

While working on the dryer, they realized it had never been vented properly, and found evidence that a small fire had already occurred due to lint buildup. The volunteers left with a list of needed supplies and promised to come back next week to keep working.

Carmen radiated gratitude and delight.

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