How to Support Someone Who Is Grieving
When someone you know loses a loved one, it’s easy to feel uncertain about how to respond. What do you say? What do you do? It’s very important to have the support of friends and family when people are grieving.
Listen. Let them talk about how they feel and think. Ask for stories about the loved one they lost. Listen and pay attention. What they say might also give you ideas about other ways that you can be supportive. If they just want to be quiet, sit beside them in silence for a while.
Let them know you are thinking of them. Call or text them as soon as you hear. Go to the funeral if you can. Send cards. Ask how they are doing – if they want to talk, listen. If you are close enough, stop by to talk. Bring food.
Allow them to grieve in their own way (as long as it’s not unsafe). People mourn differently. Some people will want others around them. Some are very expressive and cry. Some need alone time and are self-contained. Don’t criticize their way of grieving, try to tell them what they should be feeling, or push them to grieve faster or to ‘get over it’.
Understand they will be emotional. Your grieving friend will be going through all kinds of emotions – don’t take the mood swings personally.
Find practical ways to help. Be specific about what you offer. Most grieving people won’t make use of an offer, “Let me know if you need anything”. Offer specific help based on the tasks you see as you relate to them and listen to them. “Let me just do those dishes”. “If you give me the numbers, I’ll call your cousins with the time of the service”. “Want me to pick up something for you while I’m at the shops?”
Offer to run an errand, carry out the trash, or prepare a meal.
Don’t say “I know exactly how you feel.” You don’t; you know how you felt when you lost someone, but every person grieves individually. Most people feel put off or pressured by this statement, and when we use it, we often use it as an excuse to talk about ourselves instead of listening.
Avoid platitudes. Don’t try to explain the loss. “He’s in a better place”. “At least he’s not suffering”. These comments don’t help and can make the person feel pressured to put on a good face and hide their feelings. Listening is more helpful than trying to explain what is often inexplicable.
Don’t abandon them. Too often grieving people feel isolated as their friends and acquaintances stop calling, texting, inviting, or just chatting with them. They don’t mean to, but just feel awkward and avoid the recently bereaved for fear of saying the wrong thing. Even a quick, “thinking of you” call or text can help relieve the sense of aloneness.
Keep in touch. Show care in practical ways. Hang in there through the rough parts and messy emotions. Listen to understand. The most important thing is that the grieving person knows you care, and you are there for them and with them.