Finding the right words, fear of saying the wrong ones, and perhaps a lack of direct understanding leave many people feeling uncomfortable when reaching out to a grieving friend. Often, we feel responsible for alleviating or creating additional pain for our friends in mourning. In doing so, we fail to realize the loss of a loved one cannot be enhanced or relieved by words. Bereavement is a process and friends can offer support and a listening ear, but there is no way to take away the pain from the person who has experienced the death of someone they love. Rather than worry about what to say to a grieving friend, friends should be receptive to the needs of the bereaved and offer assistance whenever possible.
“Let me know if there is anything I can do”
This offer of help is often stated to those who have had a loss. Funeral directors are frequently asked by extended family and friends of the grieving, “How can I help?” Because most people are reluctant and hesitant to ask for help, it is important that supporters reach out and seize the initial offer for help.
We hope this information will give you confidence in knowing your actions are appropriate and welcome, it will also give you some helpful advice on how you can be of comfort to friends and family that have experienced a loss.
Get in touch.
As soon as you learn about the death, visit, phone or write. Even if some time has passed, it’s never too late to express your concern and offer to help.
Accept your friend’s emotions.
If angry, listen. If sad, console.
Bring a meal.
Do this right after the loss and do it from time to time in the weeks and months following the death.
Avoid clichés and easy answers.
He had a good life…She’s out of pain…At least you had 25 years together…These may all be true statements but they are not likely to help. Such sentences tend to minimize the loss. A better response is a simple “I’m sorry” or “What can I do to help?”
Offer to clean house.
The bereaved often don’t have the energy to do this and a clean home can lift the spirits. Bring your own cleaning supplies.
Give the gift of your time.
Walk and talk together.
Hug your friend.
An embrace conveys deep affection and support when grief is hard and heavy.
Do everything you can to plant seeds of hope.
Let your friend know you believe in him or her and know that, day by day, he or she will get through the grief.
Talk about the deceased and the loss.
Your friend wants and needs people who are open to hearing about the feelings of love and loss.
Visit regularly with your friend.
Not every visit needs to be emotionally charged but just the simple fact of your presence will be comforting.
Write notes of encouragement.
These can be read and reread for cheer and inspiration.
Be practical and specific. Think about your friend’s needs. If one offer is refused, don’t be hurt and don’t give up. Try again and again.
Let the bereaved cry.
Remember, tears are healing. Don’t be embarrassed or intimidated if, during conversation, tears flow. It’s natural, appropriate, and healthy to cry when there has been a loss.
Don’t force conversation if the bereaved doesn’t feel like talking. Always let the grieving person lead emotionally.
Exercise patience with your friend.
The journey through grief can take as long as four or five years.
Drop off flowers.
Bring over some inspirational magazines or tapes of soothing music.
Invite your friend over for dinner or out to a movie, concert, or sporting event.
If your friend has young children, offer to baby-sit for an evening, a day, or even a weekend.
Encourage activities you and your friend can do together, such as joining reading or discussion groups or taking a class together.
Remember your friend on special days such as anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays.