When a Hug Isn’t Possible

When someone dies, people usually rush in to help. I remember when my father died, a neighbor who was on her way to church saw the ambulance at my parents’ house and stopped, knowing something was wrong. She arrived soon after I did, with the ambulance still in the driveway and the paramedics inside. 

I am still grateful to her as I look back to that day seven years ago. When the ambulance pulled out, she told me to run home and take a shower and told my mother to take a shower and get dressed, and she would stay. When I returned 45 minutes later, our friend had removed the walker and other medical equipment from the house and taken it to our garage. She offered to make phone calls to family and friends. She helped us think when we could not. 

Now, however, with COVID-19, we could not have let her in, as my mother and I are both very high risk. Nor could we have let in the friends who showed up later with sandwiches and cakes and hugs. Friends offered us such comfort at the time and took over basic responsibilities so we did not have to.

So how can you help when you can’t just show up and give a hug? Based on my work with caregiver support and grief groups in the past, I came up with a few ideas to share, and I offer them here:

  • If you know something to do, act. Asking the person what you can do is usually not helpful, as they either do not know right then what they need or they do not want to ask.
  • Send a card. A real snail-mail card.
  • Check-in with a phone call. Don’t ask them to return your call. Just say I love you and am thinking about you.
  • Don’t judge them for how they deal with their feelings. 
  • Do a video chat with them and just hold space with them. It’s not the same as physically being there, but offering to just sit with them, to listen if they want to talk, to be a virtual presence can offer support.
  • Offer to go to their window and hold your hand up to theirs through the glass for a few minutes and give a gentle smile
  • Leave a meal on the front porch then call to let them know you care and/or set up a meal train so neighbors sign up to take meals for a week. Even better, order meals to be delivered from local restaurants in order to help the restaurants survive
  • If you’re able to go out, ask for their grocery list or just anticipate what they might need and leave their groceries at the door 
  • Make a donation in memory of their loved one

With so many people grieving the loss of loved ones during the pandemic,  are all hurting. Please be kind and considerate, be loving, and do what you can to respect and care for all those who are mourning or in despair. We need each other to get through this pandemic.