Grief Support

5 Simple Ways to Help Someone Who's Grieving
curious jack russel

Feeling helpless about how to help a friend or family member who's mourning a loss? Small acts speak volumes. Here's how to help someone who's grieving, in simple, thoughtful ways:

  1. Listen.

    There's no need to rush in with words of comfort, especially if they don't come naturally.

    Better: Simply make a space, with your companionable silence, for the bereaved to express herself if she chooses.

  2. Don't hurry an emotional moment.

    A common impulse when someone gets choked up with grief is to change the subject and try to shift to safer emotional ground.

    Better: See the moment through. Pause. Offer a hug. Share your own comment about the person who died, if it feels appropriate.

  3. Talk about the person who died.

    Don't avoid mentioning the person who died; he or she is still very much in the minds of grieving family and friends.

    Better: Reminisce or mention how the person inspired you or made you happy. When they naturally come to mind, don't be afraid to say things like, "Wouldn't Susan have loved these flowers?" or, "I can just hear Bill saying, 'It's a great day for golf!'"

  4. Stick to honesty over platitudes.

    There's no "right" thing to say to a survivor, but there are plenty of wrong things, like these 10 things never to say to someone who's grieving.

    Better: If you're tongue-tied, acknowledge it. Try, "I don't know what to say. Please know I'm thinking about you." Or, "I can't imagine what each day is like for you now. I'm here for you."

  5. Don't ask how you can help; just do.

    Asking even simple questions ("Do you want me to pick up milk for you?" "What do you like to eat?") puts an added burden on the bereaved. Especially soon after a death, someone who's mourning may be physically and emotionally incapable of such decision making.

    Better: Simply step in when you see a need: Furnish a meal (ready to eat or freeze, in disposable containers that don't need to be returned), organize regular meal delivery, pick up milk or eggs or fresh bread when you're at the store and leave them in a cooler on the porch, mow the lawn, take care of the car pool, stop by to walk and feed the dog. Think of essential tasks that can be handled unobtrusively.


over 3 years ago, said...

My beloved mother passed away on May 22nd and my Father is having a very difficult time. This article has shown me how by just be a listening ear and help him by anticipating some of his needs will go far to help relieve some of his anguish. Thank you.


over 3 years ago, said...

Regarding talking about the person who died-my sister Susan and my dad Bill both died in 2011. What a coincidence that you used both these names! By the way, Bill loved to play golf!


over 3 years ago, said...

I especially appreciated the, "Don't ask how you can help; just do." So often I don't want to over-step real or imaginary boundries, so even though I care and want to help, I do nothing. Your article made me think of something I could do to help a friend without interfering; thank you!


over 3 years ago, said...

Here are some good common sense suggestions. Thanks for the reminder.


over 3 years ago, said...

There are hundreds of nutritious whole foods, but the dozen on this list do more than contribute healthy nutrients -- they can help you heal. This was the tag line to get to this article....not remotely what was written.


over 3 years ago, said...

all of it thank you


over 3 years ago, said...

This contained good advice.


about 4 years ago, said...

To Lady Dawn, I do know what you mean. When my husband is sleeping I can convince myself that he is here -- just sleeping -- and go about evening tasks. There is also a presence in the house for which I am grateful. I don't feel alone knowing he is here with me. If I lived in reality all the time it would be more difficult, but at night it's as if shhhh, my husband is asleep and for a while I am content.


about 4 years ago, said...

I appreciated the practical uncomplicated guidance for offering a caring helpful approach in the difficul times during grief. It mde me feel I could be useful in a very geniune way. Thanks so much


about 4 years ago, said...

To annromick, you are so right about dementia taking away the person to whom you are married. I felt I was in mourning during that time but it is not the same despite all of the issues because occasionally there are little moments. And the worst thing is that you feel it is somehow wrong to grieve as the disease progresses but it isn't and you need every suggestion made by Paula Spencer Scott. Please print the article, handing it to friends and family whose emotional and time support you need might be easier than explaining. Before we were married me husband wrote me a birthday note in which he promised quieter days we would spend together and cherish as we aged. Alas...


about 4 years ago, said...

My husband and I are in the 9th year of his Alzheimer's, a disease of perpetual mourning. While it isn't a death it is about dying. It just takes longer. On down days the caregiver (me) needs those same thoughts and actions of caring from friends and family.


about 4 years ago, said...

Until it happens to you, it is hard to imagine the stress a grieving person is under when asked to decide how another person can help. One of the nicest gestures a few weeks ago was from my daughter's best friend who simply sent over a meal in a small disposable container. No platitudes, just a simple act of kindness. And what I most enjoy is hearing stories about my very recently deceased husband from relatives, friends and acquaintances. I'm actually learning some very good things or sharing a tearful laugh. And yes, it has been easier to have people say that they didn't know what to say but offering to listen and then just doing that. It is difficult when people say, you should ___ or ___. So I just say that I need the time to redefine who I am after being his caregiver and to mourn his loss as a spouse.. I don't happen to like funerals although I know they are important to many people. I'm not ready to say a formal goodby after decades of marriage. But I am planning a celebration of his life dinner in the Spring which was his favorite season. Even as I write this, I want to turn to him to ask what he thinks.


about 4 years ago, said...

THE THOUGHT ABOUT JUST DOING A FAVOR -MOWING LAWN, ETC., WITHOUT ASKING OR DISCUSSING


about 4 years ago, said...

Paula's columns are always right on target (thank you Paula!). These are wonderful suggestions. I hope one day we will be able to talk about death and dying more comfortably when our loved ones are alive. There is a taboo about talking about this subject that needs to stop. I truly believe a more open approach on death will, ultimately, help with the gut-wrenching grief process and remembering those "talks" later on may bring more smiles than tears.


about 4 years ago, said...

I have recently been the only person left to an older lady 89 who lost her husband 92. They were married for 62 years, had no children, and while they had periods of troubled marital problems, she loved him dearly. I am so grateful that God led me and I was (and am) able to be there for her. She loves to talk about him, the things they did, the travel they did for 40 years around the world and how much she misses him. It's been 6 months now and she still hasn't made a move to assisted living or attempted to "get on" with her life and I never push her. As long as she wants and needs me, I will be there for her, non-judgemental of either of them and listening intently to her wonderful stories of years gone by. Thanks for a great article, it has reinforced in me that allowing her to grieve in her own way and time is the best thing I can do to support her. My son committed suicide in 1996 and so many people rushed me to "get thru it and move on". Now, with my friend I can see that rushing or avoiding is the worst thing to do. Grieving with my friend has allowed me to truly appreciate how important memories are and that sharing them isn't reliving them, it's honoring them. Praise God, I have the ability to honor sincerely today, all those whom I have loved and lost.


about 4 years ago, said...

Very good suggestions for a natural approach to helping a friend.


about 4 years ago, said...

The people that I need to help me with my grieving are my four sisters. Our sweet Mom passed last Dec-2011 and our brother on Feb-2012. Inbetween five first cousins passed away. They don't talk about our Mom unless I bring it up, they tell me, I know how you feel or tell me that she's in a better place. I don't have a problem knowing that. She lived with my hubby and I for nine yrs and I miss her very much. Praying helps me. God gives me strength and hope to do one day at a time. I have detached from my sisters to a degree. One doesn't have much patience, the youngest. The older one detached a long time ago, she was angry and bitter with her family. I email with another older one and we call each other. We are the closest to each other. The other one, younger than me lives out of town, too and never talks about Mom either. I'm used to it. I talk about her, go to a support group sometimes and cry at least once a day and feel better. My hubby is a huge support system, thank God!!! God bless all of you whose loved ones have passed (or any type of grieving). May he grant you strength and courage to do one day at a time. Thank you. Mary


about 4 years ago, said...

That is SO true, Kevin. Whenever my sons share a memory of my dad (their grandfather) it warms my heart. See, for example, The Power of Remembering: My Grandfather's Pipe, http://j.mp/KPIfZF


about 4 years ago, said...

Even ten years after the death of my mother, I see a little smile from my 88 year old dad when I ask him about the love of his life. When I asked him to tell me about the place he honeymooned it was if I was there more than 50 years ago. I sometimes joke with him - "Margaret wouldn't approve of that." #3 on the list is very important and seems to bring a lot of joy to the bereaved.


about 4 years ago, said...

It's very true and I'm glad people read it.


about 4 years ago, said...

Thank you, Paula, for writing an article that is so spot on about how you can help someone who's going through the grieving process. I adore all your suggestions, especially #5, which most people don't tend to do, and #4, which so hits the nail on the head about how platitudes don't work. One other way you can help is continuing to keep in contact with that person throughout the grieving process. A simple phone call or e-mail once a week would really help that person and make them feel that they're not being ignored or that their grief doesn't render them a persona non grata. Then, when you've sensed that they're out of the mourning period (another mega useful hint: DON'T FORCE A TIME TABLE FOR THEIR MOURNING PERIOD; let them mourn at their own pace), start inviting them to things you guys would've normally done before they lost their loved one. That combined with your constant contact will let them know you haven't given up on them, which a lot of my so-called "friends" did when I lost my dad.