Often people feel unsure about how to help someone who is grieving after a death or other major loss. What most people need after a loss is comfort and caring from family and friends. Listening, running errands or simply being present are a few examples of how you might support a grieving friend or family member.
When people are grieving (also known as mourning or bereavement), thoughts and emotions are often heightened. The most important thing you can do to show that you care is being present. Offering advice or suggestions about what a person should do or should be feeling is not needed. Instead, try to be comfortable being with the person you care about – lending an ear or holding a hand is a very helpful thing to do.
There is no right way to grieve and mourn. Be very careful not to impose your ideas, beliefs and expectations on someone else, no matter how much you think it might help. It is important to understand that the way a person might respond to a loss will reflect the cultural and family traditions that are unique to them.
The following are some suggestions of ways you can support a grieving friend or family member:
- Acknowledge all feelings. Their grief reactions are natural and necessary. Do not pass judgment on how well they are or are not coping.
- Understand and accept cultural and religious perspectives about illness and death that may be different from your own. For example, if a family has decided to not allow their children to attend the funeral because of their beliefs that children should not be exposed to death, support their decision even if this may not be what you would do.
- Acknowledge that life won’t “feel the same” and the person may not be able to “get back to normal.” Help the person to renew interest in past activities and hobbies, when they are ready, or to discover new areas of interest. Offer suggestions such as, “Let’s go to the museum on Saturday to see the new exhibit,” but be accepting if your offer is declined.
- Be willing to stay engaged for a long time. Your friend or family member will need your support and presence in the weeks and months to come after most others will have withdrawn.
- Be specific in your willingness to help. Offer to help with chores such as childcare or meals. For example, suggest, “I’ll bring dinner on Thursday; how many people will be there?”
- Identify friends who might be willing to help with specific tasks on a regular basis. Performing tasks such as picking up the kids from school or refilling prescriptions can be a big help.
- Check on your friend or relative as time passes and months go by. Periodic check-ins can be helpful throughout the first two years after the death. Stay in touch by writing a note, calling, stopping by to visit, or perhaps bringing flowers.
- Be sensitive to holidays and special days. For someone grieving a death, certain days may be more difficult and can magnify the sense of loss. Anniversaries and birthdays can be especially hard. Some people find it helpful to be with family and friends, others may wish to avoid traditions and try something different. Extend an invitation to someone who might otherwise spend time alone during a holiday or special day and recognize that they may or may not accept your offer.