How to help someone with grief

- 20/08/21

Grief can be one of the most difficult things we have to deal with throughout our lives. If a friend or family member has lost a loved one, and is obviously grieving, what do you say to them and how do you say it? Will they welcome your sympathy or reject it? What exactly can you do to help?

Of course, there’s no right answer as everyone grieves differently and has different expectations of the people around them. What feels like the right thing to say to one person could be painful to another. The main thing is to be kind and compassionate, listen to your friend and follow their lead about what’s helpful to them and what isn’t.

Something is better than nothing

The fear of saying or doing the wrong thing too often means that we don’t do or say anything at all to those who need it most. A message, a phone call or even a short visit can help to bring mourners comfort. Just knowing that people are thinking of them, and knowing that they’re not facing their grief alone, can massively help.

And just because you’ve said or done something once, don’t think you’ve done your bit and that’s all it needs. People grieve at different rates and may be more receptive to contact on some days more than others. Reaching out little and often is better than a grand one-off gesture.

Be yourself

Some people think they need to change personalities when they're talking to someone who’s grieving. They either become overly positive or try and match the grief of the person they are talking to. Try to avoid saying things like ‘I know how you feel’ or ‘I’m as devastated as you are’.

Similarly, don’t try and make a positive out of the loss. Offering clichés like ‘They had a good life’, or They’re in a better place now’, will likely do nothing to comfort anyone and can even appear to trivialise their loss.

The grieving party will find it much easier to interact if you are simply yourself. Be kind, sympathetic and available to talk when they need you, but respect their silence if they don’t.

Find your own ways to give support

It’s not all about words. Sometimes a small gift or gesture can really lift the spirits of someone who is grieving. Flowers are traditional, but how about baking some cakes, making a meal or giving them a candle? Perhaps offer to help around the house, do some shopping or run an errand for them. Or suggest you join them for a good, long walk.

And finally, a few other thoughts and suggestions:

  • Don’t say how ‘well’ or ‘unwell’ they look. People who are grieving may look fine on the outside but are suffering within. Conversely, they may appear tired or lose weight but commenting on this will only make them feel worse.
  • Be careful about putting photos of the deceased on social media and tagging them. This can be an unexpected reminder and cause distress to their grieving loved ones.
  • Don’t bring your faith into it unless you know they are receptive. Suggesting that their loss is ‘part of God’s plan’ can be inappropriate and upsetting if they don’t hold the same beliefs as you.

And remember, sometimes actions speak louder than words. They might not want to talk but just need a warm hug and a shoulder to cry on. It’s not for everyone but for the right person, it can do wonders.