When someone we know experiences a bereavement we naturally want to help them but it can often be difficult to know what to do. We offer advice about how to help friends or relatives who are grieving.
Get in touch
As soon as you learn about the death, phone, visit or write to the person’s friends or relatives. If you live nearby, you might be able to offer some practical help like collecting a pension, taking the children to school or doing the ironing. There is often the assumption that family grief is private and that you may be intruding. But many people live far away from their family and would appreciate your help.
Finding the right words
Don’t stay away because you don’t know what to say. The fact that you are there is enough. A warm handshake or an arm around their shoulder can mean so much to someone who feels isolated and lonely.
After the funeral
Being there for a friend after the funeral is very important. They may want to talk about the person they have lost and this is probably the most important part of the grieving process. Listen with care and attention. This may be painful for you both but by going over the final period of the deceased’s life together, they will start to accept what has happened. Small details of what happened in the last days before the death become terribly important.
If you visit, you can help with practical jobs like housework or preparing a meal. People who have lost a loved one often don’t have the energy to do this. It’s a good idea to be specific in what you can help with, but be careful not to take over or do anything without permission.
Try not to show your own grief. Don’t say, ‘I know how you must be feeling.’ You cannot begin to know how they feel and we all have our own story when it happens to us. Don’t make comparisons or judgements. It might have been worse for someone else, but that will not help your friend. Some people like to be held, whereas others feel it is an invasion of their privacy. Some people may want to talk, whereas others may want to sit in silence. Explain you are happy to be with them for as long as they want.
Make it clear to them that you are not embarrassed if they cry. Reassure them that this is a perfectly normal reaction. Be patient and understanding. One of the best ways to help your friend is to allow them to feel what they want to feel. They may feel anger (which may be directed at you but is not personal), guilt or fear. Let them talk these feelings through with you – don’t try to stop them because you think they are irrational.
Having a social life can be difficult for people who have lost a loved one. You can help by inviting them to join you in social events or encouraging them to follow other interests such as evening classes – you could go to one together. Christmas is a particularly bad time. If they won’t be seeing their family, perhaps you could invite them to join you on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. At the very least, spare the time to drop by with a cheerful word and a small gift.
The most important thing you can give to your friend is to be yourself and to be there for them.
Visit our Helpful organisations page if you would like further advice on how to help someone who has suffered a loss.