You don’t have to know every answer.

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“What do I do now?”

I hear this question regularly as I talk with family members right after their loved one has died.

Sometimes, it’s a question about life going forward. Sometimes it’s a question about decisions that might have to be made before they walk out of the hospital.

When someone asks that question, it’s important to give the asking of the question some space.

For some of us, our habit is to offer the three steps to surviving and thriving after the death of a loved one. Even if there aren’t three steps, we try. And to even talk about thriving is covered in “People say really stupid things to hurting people. They usually don’t mean it.”

And even if we are sensitive to the situation, it’s still worth listening to discover what kind of question they are asking: about the body, about the funeral, about the plans that were made for the future, about the will, about the dog waiting at home, about the fifty-two year habit of saying “I love you”, about the dreams of nursing and kindergarten and graduation and wedding and grandbabies that just died.

Because questions like each and all of those come rushing in, uninvited. And we feel like we should be able to know the answers.

But here’s the truth. This is the only time this person has died, and this is the only time a funeral has been considered and the only time these dreams have been ended. Even for those of us who have conversations with people about death all the time, the death of our own loved ones leaves us a little lost.

That’s why even we turn to those with experience to help us. Asking for help is a very good thing, and there are people who will know what to do.

Especially when we can find people who know that the next thing to do is to listen and cry.

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For more on this and other things that I say when loved ones die, look at This Is Hard: What I Say When Loved Ones Die. It’s my best help for what to say to others in the difficult moments after death. And sometimes, what to listen to ourselves.

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