Grief and the Errand Hang

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Litsa

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This year the internet came together to celebrate the "errand hang" and we at What's Your Grief are absolutely here for it. A couple of months ago, over the course of a few days, I had no less than three friends send me this screenshot that was making the Instagram and Twitter rounds:

Needless to say, I'm pretty sure these messages came in because I have always been a fan of the errand hang. Even going back to high school, I've always found a weird comfort in it that I can't quite put my finger on. And so I loved reading Annika Hansteen-Izora put it into words so perfectly (if you want to read more of her writing, you can subscribe to her newsletter). She gave name to an experience I have loved for decades and captured it in a way that made me (and so many other errand-hangers).

The Practicality of the Errand Hang

There has always been a practicality in the errand hang for me as well. I have ADHD--errands and details are not my thing. Letting my vehicle registration get dangerously close to expiring, procrastination, and overdue library books are my thing. The errand hang has often created an external accountability for me. If I ask a friend to hang while I return those library books or stop by the MVA registration renewal kiosk, there is a much greater chance that I won't forget to do it. Heck, I might even look forward to it!

The Vulnerability of the Errand Hang

But for that same reason, there is a vulnerability to the errand hanging. The reason there is a unique intimacy with an errand hang friend is because they are a friend you trust to look into the messy, undone errand corners of your life. The "hey, want to run to Target with me to pick up school supplies for the kids?" on the day before school starts includes the subtext "I didn't have my sh*t together enough to get my kids school supplies sooner, and I know you are the kind of friend who understands that and will not judge me for it".

Now, I am a person who likes doing things alone - I love going to a restaurant alone, the movies alone, and traveling alone. So my errand hang love rarely comes from a place of disliking doing things on my own. That said, I have a couple of friends who call me to errand hang for that very reason - they just love company and don't love being alone. And there is sometimes a vulnerability there, too. The subtext of "want to go to Costco with me" is "I really miss going to Costco with my ex" or simply "I hate doing it by myself". In a culture that privileges autonomy and independence, there is a vulnerability that comes with trusting someone enough to say "hey, I'm kind of lonely and sad" or "hey I don't like doing things alone. Will you come along?"

This cultural bias against the vulnerability of saying "I just want someone to do errands with me" was captured in a commentary about on the errand hang newsletter on Twitter by Cindy Wang Brandt:

There was some disagreement as to whether our culture is actually errand-hang averse over on Scary Mommy, but strong agreement that an errand hang friend is a good friend. You just can't argue it, really.

Grief and the Errand Hang

I'm guessing you might see where I am going here. We've long touted the benefits of finding grief-friends. We've also explained that it is important to remember that not all friends are right for all of your needs. In grief, identifying and seeking support from your errand hang friends can be SO HELPFUL. Why?

  1. While you're grieving, your motivation is often zapped. Errands feel like a greater chore than ever. A friend for company and motivation can be more helpful than ever!
  2. There are often new errands you have to run, and many of them are heavier than usual. Maybe it is dealing with probate issues and closing bank accounts. Perhaps it is just running the errands that your partner took care of for you before they died. Whatever the reason, a little moral support from a friend can be critical.

An errand hang friend can be a mental health lifeline, though from the outside it just looks like they're waiting in line with you to return the nine pairs of shoes you bought and never wore right after your mom died. Internally they are actually the only reason that you left your house and did a single thing you felt good about today. Identifying the errand hang friends in your life and reaching out for their support when the mundane, day-to-day tasks are piling up can be hugely helpful. It might not sound like "grief support", but living after loss means even learning to deal with every part of life again - even the mundane errands.

What if You've Never Been an Errand Hang Person?

That's ok! Just because you haven't been errand-hanging before doesn't mean you can't start now. In fact, grief can be a great excuse start. Remember all those people who said "let me know if there is anything you need" right after the death? Well, viola! Here's what you need.

Make a quick list of things (inside or outside the house) that are feeling particularly daunting. This can be anything from doing laundry to getting new tires on the car to going grocery shopping to assembling that Ikea dresser that has been in a box in the corner for two months. Now, start thinking through who might be willing to come over and errand hang with you while you get the task done.

Just Ask - Seriously. Right now.

If you're hesitant about asking, don't think too hard! Just send them a quick text. If you think they'll think it's weird because there is no errand-hang precedent set, that's okay too. Just label that from the outset. ("Hey, I'm worried this is going to sound totally out of left field, but grief is brutal and I need some out of left field support. I keep putting off getting new tires, for no clear reason other than lack of motivation. Or maybe it's this feeling like I'm moving through cement half the time. Who knows. Regardless, any chance you could come with me for some motivation and some company (and to help me make sure I get it done!)". Simple enough, right?

Thoughts about the errand hang? Suggestions on how to strike about an errand hang relationship? Feedback about how the errand hang has played into your grief? Whatever you want to share about errand hangs, we want to hear it. Leave a comment!

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After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

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8 Comments on "Grief and the Errand Hang"

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  1. Richard  October 12, 2021 at 2:08 am Reply

    I didnot know a name for it. But when my beloved wife of 35 years passed away in May 2021, I could not stand the absolute pain of loneliness. I somehow summoned the courage to ask a lady who we had known for 40 years to go to Costco with me. She had been divorced for many years. Both of us are octogenarians. Two weeks later she asked me to escort her to a funeral. Since than we call each other every day in the AM & in the evening. We are friends & the pain of loneliness is greatly diminished.

  2. Bryony  August 13, 2021 at 6:03 pm Reply

    I love this. I find it quite hard to ask for help, but I like the idea of having a purpose to hanging out which is productive as well as companionable. Less pressure to ‘talk’.

  3. Helen  August 11, 2021 at 8:31 am Reply

    My daughters best friends father died tragically while on vacation two weeks ago . I know her friends mother and care about her a lot but we aren’t yet close but I suddenly feel like I want to help take care of her and her daughter as they navigate life without their dad/husband. I know she is so worried about raising her daughter alone and my daughter has been by her friends side since it happened. I would like to offer to drive her to run errands or to offer to walk her dog or go with her to walk her dog or anything really (groceries, DMV etc) . I just don’t want to be annoying if I want to continue to offer to help with things. The death was so so recent, I can imagine she’s feeling overwhelmed with many different emotions that I can’t imagine how painful they must be. She’s also a private person. Since it happened I’ve been checking in every other day and went over to visit for a short period of time but just sitting with her and listening but don’t know what to say or offer other than “what a sweet man her husband was and we will really miss him”
    Any suggestions on what else I might do. She’s gotten so many meals sent over and she’s not eating much. I was going to get her a few groceries of things she can nibble on if she’s feeling up to it? Any other suggested would be helpful. She’s been through a tremendous amount of trauma with the accident that she must be spinning. It’s very complicated I can only imagine.

    • Dominique Bergman  November 28, 2021 at 10:22 am Reply

      Hi. I lost my 21 year old son 2 1/2 years ago, May 5, 2019. I was living with my grandparents, we both were until a few months prior. It was obviously overwhelming for all of us, but we just lost my grandfather March 17, 2019. I know my grandmother was grateful for the company that never seemed to stop coming. I was grateful and annoyed because I just wanted to dig a whole a die or at least sleep the next decade away. But, reality was. . . I was a mother of 2 now. My daughter wasn’t even a year old when her brother died. I still had to be a mom (which was one of the most difficult things, oddly), I still had to remember my grandmother was mourning (we all were) and I couldn’t just quit life, not at that moment at least. I would be useless forever. The truth is grieving is overwhelmingly heartbreaking and I know having to be a good “mom” is at the top of your grieving list, but priority is breathing, not killing yourself and navigating the flood of emotions that are suddenly thrown at you and it’s so easy to get lost in that alone. It’s confusing, and I pondered on every thought I had. I didn’t know what was real, what was right or what was wrong. And what my reaction to a comment was one minute would be completely opposite later that day (or even that hour). The only thing I knew is life is so f**** unfair, how do I live my life without my the love of my life, how can I be a mother to my precious daughter like this (I was a walking zombie or hysterical nut- back and forth all day) and how do I bury my son?

      My advice: take some of the weight of motherhood from her right now. Ask her daughter (or your daughter) what there usual routine was. What did they do every week and ask how you can help. Give them some of their normal back without pressure or discomfort. If the daughter says “it’s ok”, ask her what is something she needs- maybe a night away and maybe you can go over and make dinner for her mom. Ask about funeral plans. I was incapable of doing this. My cousin’s planned everything and ran all decisions by me. They scheduled meeting at our house so I could be present. I wish I would have done more and not put that burden on them, but I was a mess. Im sure she is too. Bring coffee in the mornings. Sit outside on her patio and talk about whatever. Make sure she is taking care of things. Take a note book and pen- write a to do list for her as you talk (start with the funeral, then home). If her daughter is in highschool- check for anything coming up she may need help with. She probably won’t feel right about asking for something or reminding her mom about something coming up. Start popping up, bring her a smoothie and tell her you there to take her to the grocery store or take her shopping for the services.

      Being present. Listening. Or even sitting in silence. – those are priceless. My friends didn’t take no for an answer. They came and sat with me. Some threatened to sit all day unless I let them take me somewhere I needed to go (I didn’t drive the first 2 months). I learned to say yes, thank you. Not no, thank you. When I moved back to where I raised my son my friend came every day. Brought me lunch. Took me for a walk. Took the baby to the beach. Came and sat with my daughter so I could shower. Everyday she was there. I was annoyed at times, but I loved it. I couldn’t have got through it without her. ♥️ 💜

  4. Chelie  August 3, 2021 at 4:17 pm Reply

    I love the whole concept and all the deep down best of human nature that this supports. Not a fan of the term, but hey I can dig it.

  5.  August 3, 2021 at 9:40 am Reply

    Is there any way to do this if you have no friends or family?

    • Isabelle Siegel  August 4, 2021 at 10:52 am Reply

      This is a great question, as grief often feels (and sometimes even is) quite isolating. Is there a grief support group in your area? If so, perhaps you could join and make some like-minded friends going through similar experiences.

  6. Tricia  August 3, 2021 at 7:20 am Reply

    I have always thought it would be amazing to rotate houses throughout the week and do housework in friends’ homes as a group. I have MS and laundry wears me out, but I don’t mind sitting and pairing up socks. It seems all of my friends have tasks they dislike, don’t mind, or might even enjoy doing (Why yes, I actually would enjoy alphabetized your books!).

    It’s along the same lines as an “errand hang” which I had never heard of before today. I 100% agree that we tend to feel like we have to go it alone here in the US.


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