Some people can keep a half-eaten pint of ice cream in their fridge for months without touching, or even thinking, about it. I’m pretty convinced these people are aliens. Any ice cream that enters my freezer has a maximum shelf life of about twelve hours, and if I muster all my willpower, I can make a box of chocolates or a batch of cookies last a week. Okay, five days. Maybe. If nothing stressful happens. I’m not very popular with roommates.
It may not come as a surprise, then, that I found the bowls and boxes of comfort food flooding my house after my mother’s death less than comforting. For a while we had more food than we could possibly eat but felt too guilty to throw anything away. Also, the abundance of food was a constant reminder that our household was now operating minus one member.
Food is problematic for a lot of people in a lot of ways, and that can make the landscape of mourning, which is full of food-based rituals, particularly difficult to navigate. But you can help! Here are five no-bake ways to show love and support for your bereaved friends.
1. Fresh fruit Fruit is delicious. It can also be insanely expensive and hard to come by, depending on where you live. In some ways, this actually makes fruit a more thoughtful gift than its butter-based competitors. Fruit is also excellent for those inclined towards grief-induced binge eating – 20 peaches won’t wreak the havoc on your digestive system that 20 brownies might. Or at least they’ll wreak a different kind of havoc (never hurts to be regular).
If you’re feeling fancy you can send a fruit basket or a box of Harry and David pears. If not, then a plastic bag full of farmers market peaches or homegrown grapefruit can be equally delicious. Just don’t send any Edible Arrangements. Those things are overpriced and kinda gross.
2. Favorite beverages Is the mourner in your life a coffee addict? A connoisseur of fine teas? Does he swear by locally sourced kombucha or enjoy the aspartame-y pleasures of diet soda? Maybe she’s one of those psychopaths who like Fresca. We’re not here to judge. Beverages can be just as delicious and comforting as food, generally last longer, and can still be consumed whether you can’t stand the thought of dinner or are so full of casserole that you can’t move.
Two of the best gifts we received when my mom was first diagnosed were a magic bullet (the blender, not the adult massager) and an automatic milk steamer. When my mom was sick, making smoothies, shakes and cappuccinos was a caring ritual we could all do for her. After she was gone, it was a caring ritual we could do for ourselves.
3. Gift cards Gift cards are underrated. I stopped getting them for my birthday after I graduated eighth grade and never really understood why. They’re classier than an envelope full of cash, and save the recipient the inconvenience and awkwardness of having to deal with a gift they don’t want.
Gift cards are a useful way of giving the mourner in your life a way to purchase things they need that they might not be able to otherwise justify or afford. Etsy gift cards or cards for specific stores are good for those who (like me) find comfort in pure consumerism, while grocery store gift cards add a much-appreciated cushion to the monthly food bills.
Your home cooked meal, seasoned with love though it may be, is probably going to expire within a week. A Seamless or Munchery gift card, on the other hand, never expires and will be useful for months after the food and sympathy stop coming.
4. Cleaning Services Cleaning for yourself is even harder than cooking for yourself, IMHO. Hunger will eventually motivate you to boil some pasta or put a frozen something-or-other in the microwave, but cleaning can be put off pretty much indefinitely, and only becomes more daunting as time goes on.
If the family of the person who has died is hosting a memorial at home, take a huge task off their plate by paying, or pitching in, for a cleaning service to get the house ready for guests. Get the family’s permission first, obviously.
You can also hire a cleaning service to come every few weeks for the months or year following a death. It doesn’t have to break the bank; pool funds with other friends or use a crowdfunding platform like gofundme. On a slightly unrelated note, crowdfunding sites are also extremely useful if a family needs help covering rent, medical bills or funeral costs.
5. Your Time After my mom died, a lot of people stepped up and offered to be shoulders to cry on. The reality was, I wasn’t doing all that much crying. I needed more than shoulders, I needed whole humans who could join me to study, eat dinner, go to the gym, complain about their problems, attend concerts and generally treat me like a normal young adult. Basically I needed friends, people who would still want to hang out with me long after everyone stopped thinking of me as “some girl whose mom died” and went back to thinking of me as “some girl.”
In the end, your time and companionship are inherently more valuable than any gift you can give. Invite your friend to do things you normally do together, but don’t get too mad if they decline. Don’t avoid talking about their loss, but don’t assume it’s the only thing on their minds either. It’s easier than it sounds. As long as you can be there, use your basic common sense, and be a relatively chill human being, you’re doing fine, and you’re already leagues ahead of everyone who disappeared into the woodwork.
Ruby Dutcher is an intern for Modern Loss and a rising senior at Barnard College. She does not actually eat bacon, but has heard good things about it.
Grief Bacon is Modern Loss’ series on grief and the body. Read more here.
Top Image: Still from the 2006 film Marie Antoinette. Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures. Grief Bacon theme art by Emma Merkling.