Several months ago, a friend of mine told me about a neighborhood acquaintance who had died by suicide, leaving behind a wife and three children.
(Aside: I used to think that if only my son had had children, he could have survived; surely he would have found a way to live for them. I have learned that, as with just about everything else related to suicide, my gut assumption was wrong.)
My friend told me that he felt so helpless; he had no idea what to do.
"Mark your calendar for six months from now," I said, "and invite them to dinner. By then everyone will have drifted away, and most people will have no idea how searing the pain is with which they live every minute. Just invite them to dinner and make space for conversation."
This afternoon, after a meeting at church, he reminded me of our own conversation and said, "They're coming for dinner tonight."
I had, of course, completely forgotten our discussion, but it's the same suggestion I make to everyone who has the courage to admit not knowing what to do. Mark your calendar. Six months, nine, a year, three years, whatever. I promise you that, in the absence of an announcement by the bereaved family, yours will be almost the only note or call or invitation they receive. And that it will mean more than you will ever know.