Unfortunately, there will likely come a time when someone you love is grieving. Maybe you’ve lost someone yourself in the past and can empathize their pain. If so, think about what might have brought you comfort at the time and try to do the same for them. If you haven’t experienced grief or you’re not sure how to be supportive to someone who has lost a loved one, here are our tips to help you help them.
1. Avoid phrases like “He’s in a better place,” or “At least you don’t…”
Replace standard or stereotypical remarks with more honest ones that identify with the pain they’re experiencing. “I’m so sorry you’re going through this,” or “I’m sending you love every day” may be more helpful to someone who doesn’t yet feel that the loved one they’ve just lost is “in a better place.”
2. If you offer help, be specific.
Rather than simply ask “Is there anything I can do for you?” try to offer something more specific such as, “Can I bring you dinner on Tuesday?”
3. Follow through with your offers.
People who are grieving often feel a sense of isolation and injustice. If you make an offer, be sure to honor it. Be on time and don’t make any excuses. Just be there and do what you’ve said you’d do. That’s the best way to reassure them that they are cared for and supported, and it will help in their healing.
4. Don’t worry about grand gestures. Small signs of kindness are appreciated more than you know.
Your gift or gesture doesn’t have to be perfect or extreme. The most important thing is that you are showing the grieving person that you are there for them, even in the smallest way. They likely won’t remember exactly which baked good you brought over, or even that you took their garbage out to the curb on Monday night, but they will remember that you showed up.
5. Don’t be offended.
If you’re constantly asking your friend to join you in an activity or to let you help in some way and they are repeatedly turning you down, there’s no need to be offended. When we grieve, we are filled with pain, and we can’t always respond to or even accept offers from those who care for us. The best thing you can do is keep offering and give them space until they’re ready to accept.
6. Be patient.
Grief slows things down, like responses to emails and phone calls. Their delay is likely not personal, so just wait, and do keep trying.
7. Keep checking in.
Those who are grieving generally get a lot of support immediately following the loss. But as time goes by, they may need more, yet have less support. Checking in even weeks or months after the initial loss is one way to show how much you care. And it may be the time when you’re needed most.
8. Share memories or ask questions.
If you knew the person who died, share a memory with the person who is experiencing the loss. Stories are like gold to someone who has lost a loved one, so share them generously. If you didn’t know the person who has died, consider asking a question about them to spark a conversation. Do be prepared if the question brings up emotions or if they feel they can’t quite talk about it yet. The point is, asking the question is a kindness and a way of connecting. It’s a lovely gesture and it will be appreciated.
9. Support laughter.
For those who are grieving, laughter can feel like something forbidden, even if they loved to laugh before they lost their dear one. Laughter can make us feel that we’ve “moved on” too soon from grief or that we’re “not sad enough” at our loss, but that’s not true at all. When it feels right, you can try a silly joke or mention something you know the person they’ve lost would find funny, even something that reminds you of them. Don’t worry if they can’t laugh yet. The memory itself will help in healing.
10. Encourage physical activity.
Grief can have a heavy effect. It can make us feel sluggish, depressed, sleepy and inert. But fresh air and movement are almost always a good idea. If you can, invite your grieving friend to join you on a short walk to the end of the cul de sac or for a boot camp class or for a run in the woods where you’ll end by yelling into a waterfall. Even if it’s just a stroll out to the backyard and a chat in the sunshine--it will help.
11. Be a real life helper.
Sometimes the nicest thing you can do for someone who is overwhelmed by grief is to help with very basic tasks. Offer to come by every day for a week in the morning and take their dog for a walk. Offer to pick the kids up from school and take them for pizza. Offer to mow the lawn or drop off groceries. The best approach is to be specific. “I have time this week--let me pick up the kids after school--it would be so great to see them and take them for ice cream!”
Our best advice for supporting someone through a loss is to offer specifics, and to keep trying. Even when someone who is grieving seems standoffish or uninterested in your help, you can keep showing up and keep trying. We promise--they will appreciate your efforts!