Grief can leave even the toughest among us speechless — it’s a universal experience that connects us all. It’s the normal response to loss and it demands to be felt. You may not know what to say or do when a loved one or friend is grieving.
The best you may be able to offer is your presence and listen — and that’s a wonderful gift. Here are some suggestions to help support someone who’s grieving.
Listening is one of the simplest ways you can support your friend or loved one — it’s an invaluable gift. Invite your loved one to share as little or as much as he or she wants to share. Explain that it's okay to share sadness and to express emotions. It’s a safe space and you’re happy to listen anytime.
Be sure that when you listen to your loved one or friend that you use active listening skills. Active listening involves paying attention, avoiding judgment, and offering relentless support.
2. Don’t Give Advice
You might feel as if you should try to offer lots of advice or try to “fix” the situation. If this occurs, take a deep breath and do a check to make sure you’re using your active listening skills.
It takes courage for someone to be vulnerable in grief and it’s really important that you honor that. Just remember, you can’t take away all the pain, as much as you might want to be able to do that.
3. Keep the Focus on Them
Keep the focus on your friend or loved one when you’re trying to be supportive — not yourself. You might feel the knee-jerk reaction to relate to their experience — that’s normal.
If this occurs, take a deep breath again and do a triple-check of your active listening skills. If you do find yourself sharing a similar experience, that's okay, but make sure you don't get carried away.
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5. Offer Unconditional Support
Grief isn't always pretty. Your loved one is experiencing heartbreak and it may be hard for him or her to express completely feelings. Your friend or loved one might be angry or cry relentlessly
This is the time to love and show up for your loved one, no matter what. Be a consistent presence but also be prepared to give your loved one space if necessary.
6. Write a Note or Letter
It’s customary to write a condolence note or letter to a family member or friend a loved one has died. Make the note thoughtful and let your friend or family member know how much you care. You can keep the message short and sweet or draft a longer, more heartfelt message. Offering your written condolences is a wonderful way to express your sympathy.
You can include a poem or quote if you aren't sure what to say. Keep your message specific and genuine. Pick up a sympathy card and if you’re stuck on what to say, check out our list of ways to offer condolences.
7. Cook Them a Meal
Grief can send people into a state of shock and it may be hard for them to complete everyday tasks.
Cooking meals for your loved one or friend can be very helpful. You can also help organize a community meal train where people drop food off in a cooler outside the home. Keep your friend or loved one nourished during the immediate period after grief.
8. Don’t Avoid Them
Grief can be intense and you may become intimidated by it. If you are unsure how to be with your loved one, it's okay to say so. Let your loved one know that you aren't sure what to say or how to be there for him or her.
Your loved one will appreciate your honesty. People who are grieving often feel ignored and isolated from their friends. Make an effort to show up even when it feels uncomfortable.
9. Encourage Laughter
Grief can be a heavy process and it's important to introduce laughter into the mix. Watch something funny or attend a comedy show together.
Laughter has the power to heal hearts and it can help balance grief.
10. Talk About Their Loved One
Don't be afraid to bring up the person who died. Let your loved one know that you are also thinking of the deceased and keeping those memories alive.
It’s healing to speak someone's name out loud after death. By talking about the person, you help remove the stigma and fear of bringing up the deceased.
11. Share Your Story of Grief
Consider sharing your grief story with your loved one if you’ve experienced an important death in your life. It can bring your friend or loved one comfort and hope to know that someone has survived grief.
You are living proof that life can be good again. Be sure to ask your loved one if it's okay to share your story before you assume that he or she wants to hear it.
12. Keep in Touch
It’s common for people to reach out to the bereaved immediately after a loss. Consider reaching out to console your loved one after the three-week mark. This is the time when your friend or loved one needs support the most.
Do this on an ongoing basis when the rest of the world moves on — it’s a good reminder to your loved one that he or she isn’t forgotten.
13. Make a Care Package
Grief and self-care rarely go hand in hand. Put together a basket of things so your loved one can pamper herself. This could include a massage gift certificate, bath salts, a candle, and essential oils.
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14. Go to the Movies
Sometimes your loved one may need some time away from grief. A movie can serve as a great distraction.
Pick something funny or lighthearted and treat your friend or loved one to a night at the movies. Buy your favorite candies and encourage both of you to sit back and relax.
15. Recommend a Grief Support Group
Talk to your loved one about grief support groups and individual therapy and that it’s optional.
Offer the tools just in case it's the right move now or later on down the road. If your friend or loved one seems interested in a grief support group, you could offer to go, too. Remember, support group help doesn't have to occur immediately after a loss.
16. Go on a Trip
Your loved one may be due for some time away — so consider a trip. Plan a short weekend getaway or a relaxing week to a destination your friend or loved one has always wanted to visit.
Your friend or loved one may not be up to planning so you will likely need to take the lead. Ask if there are any particular sights your loved one wants to see and leave plenty of downtime during the trip.
17. Invite Them Out
Grief tends to keep people at home. If your loved one seems up for it, opt for a night out. Plan dinner at a favorite restaurant and dress up. You may consider taking your friend or loved one to a local spa for some pampering beforehand.
18. Validate Their Feelings
Let your loved one know it's okay to feel sad and angry. Be there and let your loved one know that his or her feelings are valid. It may be tempting to force cheerfulness, but remember that feeling emotions is part of the grief process.
19. Let Them Know It’s Okay to Cry
Your loved one may have to hold back tears at work or in other public places. But let your friend know that that’s not the case with you. You can offer a safe place and crying is completely allowed. Offer a hug, plenty of tissues and a quiet space for a lot of tears.
20. Ask Them What They Need
Ask your loved one what he or she needs for support during grief. It can be easy to assume that you know what he or she needs — but ask instead.
Your friend or loved one may not need much, but this plants the seed that you are there if they need something in the future.
Your Presence is Enough
As much as you feel like you want to do or say something, remember that your presence is enough. Your presence by a loved one's side is courageous and admirable. Your presence is a gift in itself.
Trust your loved one in his or her grief and trust that you are capable of being there no matter what. It doesn't take a lot to be there for a loved one — the only requirements are an open heart and a listening ear.