How to support a grieving friend or relative

March 15, 2020

It can be difficult to know how to support a grieving friend or family member. Everyone grieves differently, however, there are many ways that you can support someone who has recently lost a loved one. Here, we discuss 13 ways how to support a grieving friend.

  1. Don’t compare your own experiences. It can be common and natural to empathise with a griever. Or to comfort them by comparing their experience to a time when you were grieving. Although this is often coming from a place of love, it can sometimes have an adverse effect. Similar bereavement stories can help as they can show the griever that they will laugh again. However, you have to ensure that your experience of bereavement is comparable, otherwise, it can cause additional pain. Explain how you felt at the time. However, never assume they are feeling the same or tell them how they are feeling.
  2. Don’t avoid them. Some people struggle to know how to behave around a grieving friend. However, deliberately avoiding them can end up causing more pain. If they say they would like some space, then respect their decision. However, you need to show them that you are always around for them if they ever need you. Avoiding someone can be hurtful during what is already a sad and confusing time for them. Grief is scary and the grieving need to know they have people to turn to when they need. You may not think you know what to say, but the important thing is that you are there for them.
  3. Listen rather than talk. This is one of the most important things you can do for someone that is grieving. Allowing them to talk about the person who has died can be a very important stage in their grief. Never change the subject if they are talking about the deceased. Just listen without interruption. Also appreciate times when they just don’t want to talk at all.
  4. Don’t stop someone from crying. It can sometimes be an automatic response to tell someone ‘don’t cry’. However, this is not helpful to someone who is grieving. Crying is a natural way to show emotion and can be beneficial. If they are crying, do not feel a need to fill the silence. Just having someone nearby can provide the griever with comfort that is far greater than words.
  5. Help them with everyday tasks. The first few days and weeks after a death can be a shock. Some people may struggle with everyday tasks. Offer to cook, do their washing or help with any admin to ease the pressure.
  6. Offer to sign the death certificate with them. Death certificates usually need to be signed by a close relative of the deceased and happens soon after the death. This can be an extremely emotional time and is a lovely gesture to offer them support.
  7. Don’t make it about religion. Unless you are completely sure of what the grieving person’s beliefs are, try and avoid the topic of religion.
  8. Don’t be afraid to make the laugh. It is completely acceptable and encouraged to try and make someone who is grieving laugh. Making them laugh will not reduce the pain but it can help provide them comfort and much needed distraction.
  9. Talk about the deceased. Although you don’t want to talk about them constantly, try to still discuss the deceased in conversations way after the funeral. It can help the griever to discuss their loved ones and know that people haven’t forgotten about them.
  10. Do make note of birthdays and anniversaries if possible. Knowing these dates and making sure your grieving friend or loved ones know that you have remembered can make a huge amount of difference and will mean a lot to them.
  11. Do remind them that counselling is an option that is available to them no matter how long after the death.
  12. Be patient. Each person will grieve for a different length of time and sometimes the grief never truly goes away. Knowing and understanding this will help you be more supportive. Don’t try and rush the grieving process. Just allow them to grieve in their own way.
  13. Do suggest activities. Your friend or relative may not feel up to doing anything but you should still suggest it. The activity doesn’t have to been anything particularly big. Just a coffee or watching a film can be a nice gesture.

Grief belongs solely to the griever, and so, although you are not the central role, you are still vital. Knowing how to support a grieving friend can make a huge difference in helping them through a difficult time of their life. These are just some of the things you can do to be there for them.