I lost my older brother Gary to brain cancer a month ago. He was diagnosed with melanoma that spread to the brain, back in mid-March. We had known since then that there was a chance he might not live long, even with aggressive treatment. After top-notch oncology treatment, things looked fairly hopeful. But in the span of about a week, he started deteriorating, went into hospice, and then passed away. None of our family were really ready for the suddenness, and finality of it.
What helped, as you might guess, was to have dear friends stopping by, offering encouragement and compassion (even hugs), doing practical things (like bringing sandwiches by), and praying for and with us. I would say that their moral support was so important to the rest of the family, and I—making the beginning of the grieving process somewhat easier to bear.
You DO hear, like I have over the years, examples of insensitive, really unhelpful things people say (or ask) thinking they're being helpful. They might ask “Did he have good life insurance or savings?” or say insensitive things like “it was just her time.”
The website grief.com shares some things to be free to share, and things NOT to say. For instance, it's hurtful or at least unhelpful to say things like “At least she lived a long life, many people die young,” “There is a reason for everything,” or “She (or he) was such a good person God wanted her to be with him.”[i] On the same page, they spell out the Best & Worst Traits of people just trying to help.
Fortunately, I didn't have much in the way of bad experiences of people being insensitive, although one friend of mine did stop by and visit with me for 2 hours one day, while Gary was in hospice. He mostly wanted to talk about his life and work! I don't recommend doing that. If you stop by to visit someone in distress, try to be sensitive to their needs. Please don't shy away from visiting or helping out. You may be just what a deeply hurting friend or coworker needs.
[photo credit: http://seniorplanet.org]
[i]Www.grief.com. (n.d.) Best and worse things to say. Retrieved from http://grief.com/10-best-worst-things-to-say-to-someone-in-grief/.