How to Support Someone Who Has Lost a Loved One
When someone you care about is grieving after the loss of a loved one, it can be difficult to know what to say or do. They may be struggling with a variety of painful and intense emotions including depression, anger, sadness and feelings of isolation. It’s important not to let your fears about doing or saying the wrong thing stop you from reaching out and being supportive.
You don’t need to have answers or offer advice or feel like you have to say and do all the right things. The most important thing you can do to support someone during grief is to simply be there. Your support and caring presence will help a grieving person cope with the pain and gradually begin the process of healing.
Grief doesn’t always unfold in an orderly, predictable manner. It’s often an emotional rollercoaster with a variety of behaviours, emotions and setbacks. A sufferer might obsess about the death, cry for hours on end or simply appear numb and disconnected. Keep in mind that everyone grieves differently and try not to judge them. There is also no set timetable for grieving. It can take anywhere from a few months to several years.
What Do I Say?
While we often worry about what to say to a grieving person, it’s more important to listen and take cues from them. Well-meaning people often make the error of avoiding talking about the situation or changing the subject when the deceased person is mentioned. However, people need to feel their loss is acknowledged, that they can talk about it and that their loved one won’t be forgotten.
Avoid statements such as “you will” or “you should”. Simply acknowledge the situation and let them know you’re there for them. Depending on the time, place and mood of the person, they might want to cry on your shoulder, happily share memories or sit in silence. Either way, simply being there and listening to them is a huge source of comfort and healing.
Offer Practical Help
It can be hard to ask for help when grieving due to feelings of guilt, fear of being a burden or being too depressed to reach out. Let them know you are there to offer help by making specific suggestions to assist them, such as offering to:
- Shop for groceries or run errands
- Drop off food
- Help with funeral arrangements
- Assist with any housework
- Watch their children or pick them up from school
- Accompany them on a walk
- Take them out to lunch or a movie
- Share an enjoyable activity such as a sport, game, an art project or puzzle
- Drive them where they need to go
- Go with them to a support group meetings
Aim to be consistent in your offers of assistance where possible so the grieving person doesn’t feel bad repeatedly asking for help.