Here’s a better idea: DO SOMETHING! Here are suggestions of things that will help a dying person or the recently bereaved.
40 Things More Useful Than Prayer
1. Give a cancer patient a ride to chemo
2. Clean the house of someone who is hospitalized, or buy them a month of maid service
3. Cook meals that can be frozen and reheated
4. Give children rides to and from school
5. Bring in a person’s mail when they are confined to bed
6. Contribute to their household, funeral or medical expenses
7. Visit someone in the hospital
8. Give a foot rub to a hospice patient
10. Create a burial garment for a family who has lost a baby
11. Write several memories down for a young person who has lost a parent, to give to them at an appropriate age. Especially great for children who lose parents in infancy and never got to know them.
12. Bring books, videos or other entertainment to someone in the hospital
13. Take photos, handprints and locks of hair from a stillborn baby if the mother is unable to do so, or remind funeral home staff to do this. Some mothers who lose babies right after birth are under anesthesia and never get to see the baby.
14. Go with someone to funeral arrangements and services, even if you did not know the deceased
15. Buy a chemo patient a beauty and wig consultation
16. Donate or buy clothing for a deceased person whose family cannot afford it (some people die owning no clothes after going to a nursing home)
17. Ask questions about the deceased person and encourage the bereaved to talk as much as they can
18. Help construct or paint a custom casket
19. If the dying patient is religious, pray WITH them, by their side, and not FOR them at home when it’s convenient for you
20. Do not be afraid to touch a dying person if they are comfortable with you doing so. Many people will not touch them.
21. If they live long enough to see birthdays and Christmases/other holidays, give them gifts. It’s a myth that “cancer patients want nothing except for a cure.” They still have other interests.
22. Do not ask if they need anything. Assume they do and bring an item or provide a service unannounced.
23. If talking about a baby who has died, use the baby’s name.
24. Talk with a dying person about death
25. Take care of the garden or pets for someone who can’t deal with that right now
26. Don’t be afraid to break the rules. Stay longer than visiting hours allow. Sneak someone a shot of whiskey if they’re dying anyway and would just like to have a drink that the nursing home won’t allow.
27. Help fulfill last requests (thinking of the hospice center who took a bed-confined patient to the forest for one last look at the outdoors)
28. Help design a headstone. Options are unlimited so this can be an overwhelming task. I encourage families to wait a few months after the burial before buying a grave marker.
29. Bring beauty to a hospital or nursing home room in the form of flowers, art, or items from the patient’s home.
30. Collect all funeral flowers and cards that the family does not leave at the graveside and create some sort of artwork with them. There are companies that will make candles and candle holders out of old funeral flowers.
31. If you can’t imagine what a bereaved person might be going through, ask them.
32. If you have musical or other artistic talents, or know someone who does, see about making them a part of the memorial service.
33. Offer to carpool at a funeral, or to give rides to older people who no longer drive. Provide an arm to grab when helping them climb stairs or walk through the cemetery.
34. Bring extra umbrellas, bottled water or folding chairs to a funeral if you think the guests will be numerous, or remind the funeral home to stock up before the service
35. Make a scrapbook or video slideshow of the deceased
36. Offer to design and print memorial programs (saves more money and looks better than what you can buy from the funeral home)
37. Pick up cremated remains at the funeral home for a person who can’t drive
38. Some widows never learned how to drive. Offer to provide or pay for lessons for someone who may need to get around on her own for the first time in her life, or buy her a bus pass and show her how to navigate public transport.
39. Similarly, some men never learned to cook and have no idea what to do after losing a wife. Provide or pay for lessons, or sign him up for a delivery service.
40. Help a newly bereaved parent pack up their child’s room, when they are ready to do so. Never suggest they do this, and never do it for them without asking.
Finally, if prayer is important and meaningful to you and you believe it will be beneficial, pray all you want. Just don’t make it the only thing you do. And there is no need to announce to the Internet that you have done so.