When Tragedy Strikes

When Tragedy Strikes: A To-Do List

When we experience the death of a loved one, we most often react in shock. Because it can be difficult to think clearly, 
I offer here a list of tasks and ideas that may help you to move through the first hours and days following your loss. May they prove to be helpful, and may you feel God's nearness as you navigate this stormy sea of grief. I'll begin with a checklist you can use over the next few days, and then explain each one in more detail.

__Pray – often!

__Take Care of Yourself

__Be aware of the children's needs

__Gather Support

__Make Burial Arrangements

__Make Phone Calls – family, friends, etc.

__Plan Funeral and viewings

__Gather Information for Obituary

__List tasks you could use help with

__Get basic finances in order

__Plan time together


1) Pray! God knows your need, and He can give you strength and courage you can find in no other way. Trust that He knows how to succor you, and ask for His guidance through this difficult time.

2) Take Care of Yourself. Sit down. Take a deep breath. Take a drink of water. Realize you need to take care of yourself to get through this.  You may not feel like eating or drinking, but to keep from becoming even more drained and exhausted, you must force yourself to take in enough nutrition to keep your energy up. When things get overwhelming, allow yourself to rest.

3) Children . Take time, even if it is just a few moments, to be alone with the children and re-connect each day. There is so much to do to prepare for a funeral, and we are still so in shock, that it is easy to forget to take time for the children. Make them a priority. They need you while they are grieving. Are there any of your children who need special attention? Is there a friend or relative who could be near for them while you are involved with the necessary preparations?

4) Gather Support. Who do you know that can help you? Do you have a sibling, a parent, a close friend? Someone who can make calls for you, and answer the door, bring you plates of food, notice when you are exhausted and take over for you so you can rest?

5) Set up a time to make burial arrangements (This will most likely be done with the mortuary that cares for the body.) Plot, casket, vault and grave liner all need to be chosen. A wise funeral director can give good advice about what is really necessary, and what expenses are excessive. If you have time or have a friend or relative who can do it for you, check online for comparison pricing of caskets - you may be able to save quite a bit of money.

6) Make necessary calls letting people know what has happened:  People you will want to notify immediately:

Family members

Close friends

Church leaders

His employer and work associates


(Once the funeral arrangements have been made, calls can be made to those in your address book – all who knew your loved one and would want to attend the services. If you desire, have someone do this for you. My mind was so occupied with visitors and making arrangements, and my emotions were so unpredictable that I gladly accepted my oldest daughter's offer to make these calls for me.)

Other calls that may need to be made:

Teachers and administrators at the children’s schools 

Coaches, music teachers, etc.

Appointments you had that need to be cancelled or postponed


7) Planning the Funeral Program: 
(Usually the funeral director oversees all of this. It is helpful to have access to the names of your extended family to draw from as you plan.) 

Choose a location, speakers, prayers, organists, musical numbers and accompanists. Choose pall bearers and honorary pall bearers.  Let the children be as involved as they want to be. Allowing them to participate helps them to more fully comprehend what has happened, and to find closure. I offered all of my children the chance to participate in the funeral; of the seven children, four chose to be on the program, and three chose to stay seated in the audience with me. However, all participated in choosing what would be included in the program.

8) Information to gather:
 Obituary information – (the newspaper has an outline to fill in.) You may want to include any professional titles and roles your spouse held, list any special accomplishments you want to mention, and anything that captures his personality and the impact he had on you and all those his life touched. You will need to include the date and time of the funeral services.

9) Make lists of specific things you need help with: (Share these needs with those who offer to help and with the leader of your religious congregation.  People really will feel better if you let them help!)

Before the funeral and for the days surrounding the services

Accommodations for out-of-town guests

Clothing and shoes for you and the children for the funeral – does anything need to be laundered, repaired, taken to the cleaners or purchased?

Meals for your family 


Home straightening/organizing

Yard care, snow removal, etc.

Arrange for someone to sit in your home during the funeral


After the funeral and long-term projects

When tragedy strikes, people want to help, but many have no idea what they can do for you. It helps to ease their grief if the can do something they feel would be useful to you. Begin a list of things in the home that need to be fixed – leaky faucets, broken appliances, drawers and hinges that need repair, etc. Include organizational projects, too. Then when someone says, "What can I do to help?” you can turn to these lists, and they can choose what they have the skills and talents to do. This helps them to feel useful, and it is helpful to you because the projects you need help with will be addressed. Take advantage of everyone's generosity at this time—allowing them to perform a service for you will bless their life as well as yours.

10) Financial

Has your mortgage payment been paid this month? Have the utilities? How about all the basic monthly bills? Have someone help you get these things taken care of. You will not be thinking clearly for a while, and it is easy to forget to get these paid on time. 
Consider withdrawing some money to get you by until things get settled, in case a bank puts a hold on your account.

11) Time together: Lastly, consider taking time after the funeral to be together with your family away from the phone and doorbell for a day or two just to grow closer together and to make some good memories before you go back to the day-to-day requirements of life. My brother and sister-in-law provided a hotel room in a nearby city, and we took a ‘mini-vacation.’ We went swimming, went out to dinner, went roller-skating, and played games in the hotel room. It was a time we all enjoyed, and a memory we cherish, when we were able to have some fun together, smile once more, and to grow in our love for each other.


In Summary::

Tackling these lists and tasks may seem overwhelming, but as you get all of this down on paper, you will begin to see that with small steps, everything can be accomplished that needs to be. Without writing it down, it can seem like a huge weight, impossible to bear. 
Determine a place to keep these lists, perhaps in a small notebook, and keep adding to them. Check off items completed, and as you begin to see progress, you will realize you can accomplish things even when your grief is overwhelming and you feel you can’t do anything.

Remember Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” This will be hard – maybe the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but with God, and with friends around you, you can do it.

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