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atime for grief When a friend is mourning, casseroles aren't enough By INGRID SBACCHI BAIRSTOW F
When a loved one dies, the grief can overwhelm those left behind. Friends can help

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Photo by SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES
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Date published: 3/26/2006

IVE MONTHS AGO, my close friend learned that her husband died from an improvised explosive device in Iraq. His vehicle hit a bomb, and he exploded with it.

As military wives, we know this can happen, but we don't expect it to happen, especially to us or to close friends.

Yet sudden loss is a part of life for so many military families--more than 2,500 service members have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

Grief and loss aren't unique to military families. About 8 percent of the American population dies annually. Those who are left behind must suffer their loss, alone in many ways. Friends may want to take away the pain, but often they're paralyzed by the heaviness of helplessness.

I experienced this feeling watching my friend, whom I will call "Sophia," agonize over the death of her beloved husband.

As Sophia grieved, at times by shutting herself in her room and sobbing for hours on end, I baked casseroles, knowing they weren't enough.

Sophia already suffered from mild depression, and I was afraid she would not recover from this shock. She told me recently that at one point she thought about killing herself because she had nothing to live for. But then she thought of her children, and so she hung on.

It took many months, much research and many conversations with her for me to learn what will and won't help a person in the weeks and months after their loved one has died.

The standard response

Sophia lives less than a mile from my home, and we became friends last year when we realized our husbands were serving in the same battalion in Iraq.

Our families quickly became intertwined. We took turns bringing our kids to school; Sophia's oldest daughter baby-sat my two kids; our sons became best buddies; her middle daughter played with my toddler. During Friday movie nights, we talked about our husbands, our plans for the future, our pasts.

And then in October she got the knock on the door, and I got her call.

The next day, I went to see Sophia. My heart trembled as I walked up the path to her home. I rang the doorbell, holding a bag of doughnuts and muffins tightly in one hand.


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INGRID SBACCHI BAIRSTOW is a freelance writer who lives in North Carolina.