Helping Someone Through Grief

Helping Someone Through Grief

Learning how to support a grieving person can seem confusing and complicated, but it isn’t impossible.

Below are several suggestions on how you can help. However, please remember that everyone responds to death differently. Please pay close attention to the person you’re comforting and how they respond to the support you’re giving.

friends eating together

Table of Contents

How should I approach someone who’s grieving?

Many grievers find it comforting to have their loss seen and their experience validated. You can do this by acknowledging their pain and not discouraging them from communicating how they feel. This may seem counterintuitive; however, grief is an expression of love. Addressing the harshness of loss normalizes their experience and provides a safe space to talk about it. Speaking about what hurts allows for healing. Dismissing pain and pushing people to “be happy” and “positive” interrupts the healing process and may lead to greater suffering.

Validating a person grieving experience sounds like:

  • This is hard.
  • I am sorry you are experiencing this.
  •  I’m here to sit with you in this and to listen.
  • It’s okay to not be okay.
  • Remember to be kind to yourself.
  • It’s okay to take each day one minute at a time.

What things can I say to someone who’s grieving?

Don’t Say This

Say This Instead

Look on the bright side / The good thing is…

When the person you love dies, there never seems to be a bright side to them being dead.

I can’t imagine…

Empathy is placing yourself as best you can in someone’s shoes. “Can’t imagine” makes grievers feel you have tried to do this.

Move on / It’s time to move forward.

This statement feels dismissive to many people surviving a loss and adds assumes that they need to get over it.

You’ll find love again / You can have another baby.

One life doesn’t replace another. When a person dies, we also grieve the future and present we had with them.

You’re so strong / Be strong.

This may imply that showing sadness makes them weak or that it’s wrong to express the natural emotions of grief.

They wouldn’t want you to be sad / They would be proud of you.

This is true. Their person wouldn’t want to see them sad, but likely would understand why they are.

You won’t always feel this bad.

This may be true, but for most, focusing on how they’ll feel at ease in the future doesn’t address their current sorrow.

They’re in a better place.

Not everyone believes in afterlife. Also, it dismisses the present pain in them not being alive.

This happened for a reason / Everything happens for a purpose / You’ll become better because of this.

Many people grieving interpret this as if their person needed to die for them to learn a lesson. Death is a natural part of life. We don’t have to find meaning or reason in it.

Anything that includes “at least…”

These words minimizes the pain and doesn’t actually acknowledge the hurt present as they survive their loved one.

  • At least they were young / you got to know them
  • At least you didn’t have kids / had kids / other siblings
  • At least you spoke to them before they died

“Losing someone you love is hard.”

This helps to validate the difficulty in surviving a loss rather than dismissing how they’re feeling.

“I can imagine…”

I can imagine that not having them is life-changing. It makes sense that you would feel this way.

“Take as much time as you need.”

Grief doesn’t have a timeline, and losing someone you love isn’t easy. You’re allowed to grieve not having them.

“Grieving the future plans you had isn’t easy.”

It must be hard not having your future plans and the family you wanted.

“What has your experience been like?”

Asking this question allows you to learn more about how they’re doing and other ways you may be able to provide support.

“I know they meant a lot to you.”

You can validate and echo their words of how they loved and cared for their person.

“Would you like to talk about any parts of this? I’ll listen.”

Asking this offers them the opportunity to acknowledge how they feel and receive the listening ear they may need.

“I have a personal experience with loss if you’d like me to share.”

Every person grieves differently. Religious and faith-based sayings aren’t always comforting to those grieving.

“Their death isn’t your fault / You did the best you knew how in providing for them / Their death isn’t your punishment.”

Those who are grieving often feel what’s known as “survivor’s guilt.” They blame themselves for their loved one’s death as a way to justify it. Being reminded that isn’t their fault is helpful.

Offer words contrary to “at least…”

  • It’s hard losing someone so young / that you’ve known for a long time
  • You don’t have to find the silver lining in this
  • I can imagine that although you may have good memories, thinking about them can be painful too
  • At least you have more children / siblings / etc.

What things can I say to someone who’s grieving?

Don’t Say This

Say This Instead

Look on the bright side / The good thing is…

When the person you love dies, there never seems to be a bright side in never having them again.

“Losing someone you love is hard.”

This helps to validate the difficulty in surviving a loss rather than dismissing how they’re feeling.

I can’t imagine…

Empathy is placing yourself as best you can in someone’s shoes. “Can’t imagine” makes grievers feel you have tried to do this.

“I can imagine…”

I can imagine that not having them is life-changing. It makes sense that you would feel this way.

Move on / It’s time to move forward.

This statement feels dismissive to many people surviving a loss and adds assumes that they need to get over it.

“Take as much time as you need.”

Grief doesn’t have a timeline, and losing someone you love isn’t easy. You’re allowed to grieve not having them.

You’ll find love again / You can have another baby.

One life doesn’t replace another. When a person dies, we also grieve the future and present we had with them.

“Grieving the future plans you had isn’t easy.”

It must be hard not having your future plans and the family you wanted.

You’re so strong / Be strong.

This may imply that showing sadness makes them weak or that it’s wrong to express the natural emotions of grief.

“What has your experience been like?”

Asking this question allows you to learn more about how they’re doing and other ways you may be able to provide support.

They wouldn’t want you to be sad / They would be proud of you.

This is true. Their person wouldn’t want to see them sad, but likely would understand why they are.

“I know they meant a lot to you.”

You can validate and echo their words of how they loved and cared for their person.

You won’t always feel this bad.

This may be true, but for most, focusing on how they’ll feel at ease in the future doesn’t address their current sorrow.

“Would you like to talk about any parts of this? I’ll listen.”

Asking this offers them the opportunity to acknowledge how they feel and receive the listening ear they may need.

They’re in a better place.

Not everyone believes in afterlife. Also, it dismisses the present pain in them not being alive.

“I have a personal experience with loss if you’d like me to share.”

Every person grieves differently. Religious and faith-based sayings aren’t always comforting to those grieving.

This happened for a reason / Everything happens for a purpose / You’ll become better because of this.

Many people grieving interpret this as if their person needed to die for them to learn a lesson. Death is a natural part of life. We don’t have to find meaning or reason in it.

“Their death isn’t your fault / You did the best you knew how in providing for them / Their death isn’t your punishment.”

Those who are grieving often feel what’s known as “survivor’s guilt.” They blame themselves for their loved one’s death as a way to justify it. Being reminded that isn’t their fault is helpful.

Anything that includes “at least…”

These words minimizes the pain and doesn’t actually acknowledge the hurt present as they survive their loved one.

  • At least they were young / you got to know them
  • At least you didn’t have kids / had kids / other siblings
  • At least you spoke to them before they died

Offer words contrary to “at least…”

  • It’s hard losing someone so young / that you’ve known for a long time
  • You don’t have to find the silver lining in this
  • I can imagine that although you may have good memories, thinking about them can be painful too
  • At least you have more children / siblings / etc.

What actions can I take to support a person through loss?

Provide food

You can bring over a meal (preferably in a container that doesn’t need to be returned). You can say, “Hey, I’m going to grab lunch. Want to come with me?” This offers nourishment, movement, getting fresh air, and companionship. You can also offer gift cards such as UberEats, GrubHub, or DoorDash if that’s available in their area (we recommend checking first).

Sit with them but actively listen

One of the greatest ways to support someone surviving loss is by showing up and listening. You may not have all the right words to say, and that’s okay. Listening to them express their grief, tell stories about their loved one, or engage in conversation is helpful. If the conversation goes quiet, that’s fine too. Your presence is good enough.

Help them study, or remind them of important stuff

Grief impacts memory, reading concentration, and focus. The person you are supporting already has so much on their mind concerning the death of their loved one and their life without them. Providing gentle reminders or helping them focus in small ways can feel mentally supportive.

Invite them to the gym, yoga, or a walk

Getting movement is therapeutic and helps reduce the buildup of stress in the body. This can help bring ease to the person whose body is carrying the physical weight of loss. Being in nature and engaging in a calming task can relax the mind.

Offer to help with their children

Everyone is different when it comes to their kids. Some people may want help. Others may decline the offer. A few suggestions can be showing up to a child’s sports game or dance recital. For children who have lost a family member, you showing up offers extra support. You may also volunteer to pick up their kids one day, watch them for a few hours, or assist in other ways.

Save important dates in your phone

Mark your phone calendar for when their person’s birthday is, a wedding or relationship anniversary, or the day their loved one died. These dates tend to feel extra heavy and forgotten. Sending a short text message or call (leave a voicemail) on these dates shows you care and took time to remember. After the first or so, ask if the person wants continued support in this way.

Offer to do household tasks

Doing things around the house can take a load off a grieving person. This can be bringing your neighbors trash cans into the yard, mowing the lawn, helping to clean, or mailing a package. Sometimes, people move after the death of a family member. Offering to help pack or unpack can be helpful too.

Gift them a supportive resource

Learning about grief’s impact and various ways others have hoped normalizes one’s journey through loss. Consider buying them a book on grief or helping them join a supportive grief group.

Should I mention their loved one who died?

Often, those grieving want to talk about how they feel without receiving suggestions or advice on what to do or feel. There’s a misconception that mentioning their loved one will make them sad. However, it’s likely that they’re already thinking about them. Therefore, you aren’t reminding them that they died. You’re acknowledging that they lived.

Do know that everyone grieves differently. While many want to talk about their person, some may not. Pay close attention to the person’s tone of voice, body language, and words. If they show or tell you they don’t want to talk about their person or the loss, it’s okay to engage in a different conversation.

They’re still grieving. Should I be concerned?

Grief doesn’t have stages or a timeline. The person you’re supporting will likely have their grief show up in various ways as time passes. For example, a couple whose baby died may grieve around the time their child would be entering preschool. Someone may feel waves of grief as they get married without their parent present. 

For many, the second year is the hardest. While the first year leaves the grieving person in shock, the reality of the loss settles in during year two. All the holidays, birthdays, and everyday living are relived without them again. 

Your person’s reimagined life will evolve alongside grief, and while it may not always feel as heavy, missing a loved one’s presence rarely fades.

When should I stop checking in?

In the beginning week to early year or two, those grieving might not feel mentally and emotionally up to hanging out. It’s not that they don’t want to, but meeting up with everyone may require a lot of energy they don’t have. Rather than allowing this to discourage you from inviting them, occasionally continue to ask them to hang out. Many people grieving say that eventually, they do get energy to spend a day with a friend but once they do, the invitations are no longer available. Also, keep in mind that the hardest parts of grief usually start after the funeral and extend beyond the first year. Do occasionally check in with them.

(Visited 646 times, 3 visits today)