When someone you know experiences a loss, your first instinct is to say “I’m sorry.” If you are like most people, these words don’t often seem adequate. You find yourself wanting to do something to help that person cope with their grief. Here are 20 tips that can better enable you to support and assist someone who is mourning.
20 Techniques to Support a Grieving Person
1. Ask the person if they want to talk. Many times, people avoid others who are grieving because they do not know what to say. Often, you do not have to say anything at all. Being willing to listen can be enough.
2. Understand the process. There are five stages of grief, all of which are perfectly normal. Your acquaintance will be in denial, try to bargain, get angry, and deal with depression. If they are lucky, they will finally find their way to acceptance. Give your friend a bit of leeway when they lash out, understanding that it is not personal.
3. Be patient. Some people need to retell the story of how their loved one died multiple times before it becomes real to them. Be patient and listen, even if you have heard the story dozens of times.
4. Do not offer advice. Sometimes, when we do this, we make the situation about ourselves without intending to do so. If your friend or loved one asks you how you coped with a loss then, by all means, share your experience. If, on the other hand, it is not asked for, your advice is best kept to yourself.
5. Avoid certain statements. Do not tell a person that their loved one is in a better place or that their death was part of God’s plan. Not everyone shares your belief system. Avoid statements that begin with “You will” or “You should.” These can come across as patronizing.
6. Do not wait to be asked for help. Your loved one needs groceries, food, help with housework and, sometimes, company. Take the initiative in offering or doing these things. Don’t ask what your friend needs; just do something. People will often turn down offers of assistance so that they are not a bother to you.
7. Do not stop your support. Grief is a process. Your loved one is not going to be sad for just a few days. The person you love will be grieving for the weeks and months to come as they learn to cope with their loss. Do not abandon your loved one when you think they should be “over it.”
8. Invite your loved one to socialize but don’t push. Everyone handles grief differently. Your friend may want to be surrounded by people…or not. Even if your friend says no on 10 different occasions, do not stop asking. The eleventh time might be a yes.
9. Attend the funeral as a show of moral support. Your friend will notice; you can be sure of that. Even if you cannot attend the funeral, attend a visitation if you are able.
10. Help your friend memorialize their loved one. If your friend wants a tattoo, go to the shop with them. If your friend wants to plant a tree, help them dig the dirt. Your show of subtle support will be appreciated.
11. Keep an eye on your loved one without hovering. If it has been more than two months since your friend experienced their loss, lingering sadness is to be expected, but harmful behaviors are not. Neglect of personal hygiene, drug or alcohol abuse, excessive talk of death; these are all warning signs that your friend needs help.
12. Validate your loved one’s feelings. From time to time, your loved one will feel guilty about the emotions they are experiencing. Your loved one may be feeling angry, hurt or depressed. Let your loved one know that these emotions are normal and expected.
13. Be prepared for setbacks. Just when you think that your loved one is feeling better, they will experience a particularly bad day. When this happens, it is time to ramp up your support efforts.
14. Be aware of the anniversary of the death, and be especially attentive during holidays. Your loved one may feel particularly alone during these times and too ashamed to reach out. When you make an effort to remember these days, you can initiate contact.
15. Learn something new with your friend. When they are ready, a new skill can help your friend to move forward in their life. Take a cooking class, go to an art class, do something that your friend has always wanted to do.
16. Make a donation in the decedent’s name. If your loved one has a favorite charity or cause, show your support by donating money or time to that group. If you donate money, it will be up to you whether you keep the donation anonymous or share your good deed with your friend.
17. Have a private memorial service. If you knew the decedent as well, have a private memorial service with your loved one. Share a glass of wine, bring out pictures and share a few great stories. This kind of bonding time can help your friend tremendously.
18. Attend a support group with your friend. If they express a desire in attending a support group meeting but are wary of attending alone, offer to go along.
19. Help your loved one set goals. These goals may be emotional or tangible, but they should be set to encourage a forward movement. Hold your friend accountable for meeting these goals.
20. Sit with your friend while they cry. Crying alone can be emotionally draining; more so, in fact, than crying with someone else. Sit with your friend and invite them to have a good cry. You do not need to say a word.
Grief can be extremely isolating. There is, however, a fine line between pushing your friend and being supportive. Follow the above tips as you see fit to help your friend or loved one navigate their grief.
Updated: October 2, 2014