Everyone will experience a heartbreaking loss at some time in their life. When someone you care about loses a person they love, you’ll want to show support for the person who is grieving. Even with the best of intentions, this can be challenging — knowing what to do and what to say to comfort a grieving person can be intimidating.
This article has been reviewed by Carly Boeselt, a Licensed Professional Counselor and owner of New Vision Counseling, with locations in Denver, Colorado and Austin, Texas.
Here are the seven best ways to support someone who is grieving:
When your friend or family member loses someone special, you may worry about what to say to comfort someone grieving. However, one of the best ways to support someone who is grieving is not by talking but by listening. For many people, sharing heavy emotions like grief can be difficult. The bereaved may think talking about their feelings will be a burden, and this can make them feel disconnected from the people who care.
If your loved one is willing to be vulnerable and share their grief, it’s important that they feel heard. Let them talk about the person they loved and the pain they are going through. If they aren’t ready to talk, make sure they know you are ready to listen when they are. Being there to listen is a great way to provide comfort.
2. Don’t minimize their feelings
Show your support for someone who is grieving by respecting their feelings, and don’t try to put a positive spin on them. It may be tempting to offer comfort with a pep talk, but avoid this with people who are grieving. Saying things like, “she’s in a better place,” or “at least he got to live to an old age” can upset the bereaved by making them feel like they shouldn’t be sad.
Likewise, don’t dismiss your loved one’s feelings based on the type of relationship they had with the deceased. For instance, they may be grieving a parent with whom they were estranged or mourning a friend they hadn’t seen in years. Saying something like, “why are you sad when you haven’t spoken in so long?” is dismissive of their emotions and a good example of what not to say to someone who is grieving.
3. Avoid giving unsolicited advice
You may have experienced your own losses, but everyone is different, and what worked for you may not work for your loved one. Offering advice on how to deal with grief may make your friend feel judged and as if you are rushing them to get over it. More importantly, by offering solutions instead of just listening, it will seem like you are trying to “fix” them.
Grief is not a thing that can be fixed; it only diminishes over time. That being said, if your loved one specifically asks you how you coped with your own grief, tell them. If they seem open to exploring resources such as articles on dealing with grief in a healthy way, be sensitive and use your best judgment on what is appropriate to share and when.
4. Accept them how they are
Make sure your loved one knows they can be themselves with you, no matter where they are in the grieving process. Check in and ask the bereaved how they are feeling, as they may be in a different emotional state than the last time you spoke. Grief can cause sudden mood swings, and their emotions may go from sad to mad to resigned all in the same day. They may even lash out in anger or cry in front of you. Know that this will pass, and your friend will appreciate the unconditional love and support.
5. Reach out regularly
When a person first experiences a loss, they may have plenty of support. However, as time goes on, people will become distracted with their own lives or assume the bereaved is “doing fine,” and the check-ins from loved ones gradually stop. Everyone’s timeline for dealing with grief is different, and just because a person seems to be doing better doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling. You don’t need to deliver a weekly casserole or even mention the deceased — a simple text to let them know you are thinking of them will mean a lot.
Carly says, “I often hear from people who have experienced a loss that in the beginning people reach out regularly, but the more time passes, especially after a few months, they often experience radio silence. Diligence in continuing to follow up with the person over time can be a great way to show support.” Don’t worry that you will make them upset by bringing up the loss again; it’s actually very encouraging to hear someone remember your loved one months or even years after they’re gone. It’s heartwarming to know others are still thinking of them.
6. Help with tasks and errands
Grieving people may have trouble asking for support. They may worry about inconveniencing you or may be too overwhelmed to even know what they need. Offer to run errands or do chores for them without being asked. Some simple ways you can support someone who is grieving include:
- Shopping for groceries
- Putting gas in their car
- Yardwork/House cleaning
- Helping with funeral arrangements
- Preparing meals
Removing the burden of everyday tasks allows the bereaved to focus on their grieving process and makes them feel loved.
7. Enlist professional help if needed
Helping someone cope with grief is complex. While the grief process is very personal and timelines for healing look different for everyone, there may come a time when you suspect your loved one needs the help of a professional. Offer to go with them to a local support group, or suggest that they consider attending grief counseling. Do the research beforehand and present them a list of possible groups or counselors, so all they need to do is make an appointment when they are ready.
If they are interested in attending a grief support group, Carly suggests making sure the group is made up of others who have experienced the same type of loss (i.e. loss of a child, loss of a spouse). This will allow them to feel that the group members can specifically relate to the same type of loss and what they might be feeling.
While knowing how to support someone who is grieving can be challenging, the important thing is being there and showing that you love them unconditionally. Your support will bring them immense comfort as they work through their grief.