For Friends & Family

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of all the beauty that remains.”

 

It can be difficult to know what to say or do when someone you care about is grieving after a loss. You may feel uncomfortable offering support as you witness the intense pain and difficult emotions the bereaved struggle with. The most important thing that you can for a grieving person is to be available and present.

How to help a grieving person:

Understand the grieving process

  • Understand the Grieving Process
  • There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone grieves differently, so avoid telling your loved one what they “should” be feeling or doing
  • Grief may involve extreme emotions and behaviors. Feelings such as guilt or anger and behaviors such crying for hours on end or lashing out at others are common. Assure your loved one that what they feel is normal. Do not judge them or take their grief reactions personally.
  • There is no set timetable for grieving. For different people, the grieving process may be longer or shorter. Do not pressure your loved one to move on or to make them feel like they have been grieving too long.

Know what to say to someone who is grieving

  • It is more important to listen, than to know what to say, to a grieving person. Let your loved one know you are there to listen if they want to talk about their loss.
  • Acknowledge the situation directly. For example, you could say “I heard your spouse died”.
  • Express your concern. For example: “I’m sorry to hear that this happened to you.”
  • Let the bereaved talk about how their loved one died. Be patient, as people who are grieving may need to tell the story over and over again.
  • Ask how your loved one feels. Do not assume you know how a bereaved person feels at any given time, as the emotions of grief can change and grief is an intensely individual experience.
  • Accept your loved one’s feelings. Let the grieving person know that it is okay to cry, to get angry, or not to cry.
  • Be genuine in your communication. It is okay to just listen to your loved one or admit: “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care”.
  • Be willing to sit in silence.
  • Offer your support. Ask what you can do for the grieving person.

 

Things to avoid saying to someone who’s grieving:

  • “It’s part of God’s plan.” This phrase can make people angry and they often respond with, “What plan? Nobody told me about any plan.”
  • “Look at what you have to be thankful for.” They know they have things to be thankful for, but right now they are not important.
  • “He’s in a better place now.” The bereaved may or may not believe this. Keep your beliefs to yourself unless asked.
  • “This is behind you now; it’s time to get on with your life.” Sometimes the bereaved are resistant to getting on with because they feel this means “forgetting” their loved one. Also, grieving individuals move on their own pace.
  • Statements that begin with “You should” or “You will”. These statements are too directive. Instead you could begin comments with: “Have you thought about…” or “You might try…”

Credits: American Hospice Foundation

Offer practical assistance

People who are grieving may find it difficult to ask for help. They may feel guilty about receiving so much attention, fear being a burden to others, or may be too depressed to reach out. You could make it easier for your loved one to ask for and receive help by making specific suggestions. So instead of saying, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”, you could say, “I’m going to the supermarket this morning. What can I bring you from there?”

There are many practical ways you can help a grieving person. You can offer to:

  • Shop for groceries or run errands
  • Drop off food
  • Help with funeral arrangements
  • Stay in your loved one’s home to take phone calls and receive guests
  • Help with insurance forms or bills
  • Take care of housework
  • Watch their children or pick them up from school
  • Drive your loved one to where they need to go
  • Accompany them on a walk
  • Share an enjoyable activity

Provide on-going support

  • Continue your support over the long haul. Stay in touch with the grieving person, periodically checking in, dropping by, or sending texts or cards.
  • Do not make assumptions based on outward appearances. The bereaved person may be suffering on the inside, though they may look fine on the outside. Avoid saying things like “You are so strong”, which could put pressure in the person to keep up appearances and to hide their true feelings. Instead, ask how they are doing.
  • The pain of bereavement may never fully heal. Be sensitive to the fact that life may never feel the same. You do not “get over” the death of a loved one. While the bereaved person may learn to accept the loss and the pain may lessen over time, the sadness may never completely go away.
  • Offer extra support on special days. Holidays, family milestones, birthdays, and anniversaries often awaken grief. Be sensitive and available on these occasions.

Watch for warning signs of depression

It is normal for a grieving person to feel depressed, confused, disconnected from other, or like they are going crazy. However if the bereaved person continues to experience these feelings without reduced intensity over time and they are have difficulty in functioning in daily life, this may be a sign that normal grief has evolved into a more serious problem.

Encourage the grieving person to seek professional help from a doctor or a counsellor if you observe any of the following warning signs after the initial grieving period – especially if it has been about six months since the death.

  • Difficulty functioning in daily life e.g. sleeping, eating
  • Extreme focus on the death
  • Excessive bitterness, anger or guilt
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Inability to enjoy life
  • Hallucinations
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Constant feelings of hopelessness
  • Talking about dying or suicide