Learn what to say and how to comfort someone who lost a loved one, including 15 actionable ways to support a grieving friend or family member.
Grief can feel incredibly lonely and overwhelming. When someone you know loses a loved one, they need your love and support more than ever. If you are wondering how to help a grieving friend, there are many simple ways to show compassion during their time of need.
Article at a Glance:
- There are many ways to show love and support for someone during times of grief.
- Learn about the grieving process, listen to those who are grieving and check in on them often.
- Offering practical assistance by running errands or helping around the house can make a big difference in the life of a grieving person.
- Don’t try to fix someone’s grief, avoid the problem or push your faith on a grieving person.
- There is no right thing to say to someone who’s grieving, so just be there and offer a listening ear.
How To Help Someone Who Is Grieving: The Do’s and Don’ts
It can be challenging to know what to say to someone grieving. The fear of saying the wrong thing could make you avoid trying to help, but there is no one particular way to help someone through grief. By being open, compassionate and willing to help, your presence will offer support.
For insight on comforting someone who’s lost a loved one to suicide, read this article from The Recovery Village.
1. Check in on them
Make an effort to check in with your friend, even if it is a quick phone call, a card or an invitation to grab a coffee together. You might be surprised how much your check-ins mean to a friend who is grieving.
2. Understand the grieving process
As your friend navigates the many difficult emotions that grief can bring, it is important to have a general understanding of grief. People who are grieving experience sadness, depression, anger and anxiety commonly. Additional symptoms can include physical challenges such as digestive issues, sleep disturbance and fatigue, among others. As you take time to learn about the grief process, how you can support your friend in meaningful ways will become more apparent.
3. Listen more, talk less
When you are in the presence of someone who is grieving, it is often difficult to know what to say. Your natural tendency may be to try to make your friend feel better, but in a situation such as grief, no amount of talking will help.
Be sure to pay attention to the amount of talking you are doing compared to the amount of listening. Your friend will benefit more from talking about their feelings than anything else. Listen to their thoughts and feelings and express compassion for what they are experiencing in their grief process.
4. Let them cry
One of the most important aspects of the grieving process is the ability to express deep sadness and allow oneself to cry. Letting your friend cry shows them that you understand that crying is an important part of the grief process.
It may be tempting to try to cheer your friend up or tell them not to cry, but remember, it is an important part of grief and healing. Often when people are discouraged from crying it is a reflection of the discomfort others have about witnessing that amount of pain. Think about the tears as a necessary part of the healing journey.
5. Ask questions
Often people are hesitant about asking questions of a friend who is grieving, for fear of upsetting them or saying the wrong thing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions as it allows your friend to talk about their loved one openly. If you’re not sure what to ask or how, some grief discussion questions can help guide the way.
Check in on your friend’s self-care, such as how they are sleeping and if they are getting enough to eat. Venture into how they are feeling emotionally and listen with compassion and care. Remember, you don’t have to fix anything — there is nothing you can do to make your friend’s pain go away — but your presence and compassion can make a world of difference.
6. Offer practical help
Grief can cause you to neglect your own basic needs at times. Offering practical help can be a lifesaver when your friend is struggling to navigate the tasks of life while grieving. It may surprise you just how beneficial these practical tasks can be:
- Running errands
- Cleaning their house
- Cooking for them
- Offering to help with childcare
- Offering to help manage or coordinate bills
- Helping with laundry
7. Be willing to sit in silence
Grief ushers in a variety of strong emotions, and sometimes a grieving person needs to sit in silence to regain a semblance of peace. It can be difficult to sit in silence, particularly when you know your friend is struggling with emotional pain. Resist the urge to fill the silence and make an effort to allow it space. Your presence is enough. By being there for your friend, you are showing your love and support, even if you sit quietly together and don’t say a word. Your silent presence may be more therapeutic than you realize.
8. Remember important dates
Anniversaries of grief experiences can be painful reminders of your friend’s loss each year. Try to keep in mind that the date of your friend’s loss, as well as holidays and birthdays, can be triggers for grief symptoms. Reach out to let your friend know that you are thinking of them.
After a loss, people often have good intentions about staying in touch but become busy with life and don’t follow through. Contacting your grieving friend on anniversaries and holidays can help reduce that feeling of loneliness and lets them know that their well-being matters to you.
Like the helpful hints to support your grieving friend, there are also several reminders about behaviors to avoid. It is easy to stumble into non-helpful behaviors even when you have the best of intentions. Here are some thoughts on what not to do when someone is grieving and ways to handle situations that may feel difficult to navigate.
9. Don’t be afraid to talk about the deceased person
Sometimes people have a misconception that talking about the deceased loved one will upset the bereaved. Most grieving people do want to talk about and think about their loved one who has passed, and by doing this, it helps facilitate the healing process.
Ask questions about the lost loved one, like what were their hobbies? Ask about the memories that your friend treasures. It may be that you are one of the few people your friend feels free to talk about their loss with. Encourage the conversation and memories about the deceased and just listen.
10. Don’t try to fix them
Grief is not a problem to be fixed. Your grieving friend only needs your loving support and presence. Attempting to do or say something to fix the situation will only leave you and your friend feeling more powerless. Remember that grief can’t be remedied by anything but time, support and compassion. If your friend feels you are trying to fix them or their feelings, they may start to view themselves as a problem, which may reduce their comfort in confiding in you and expressing their feelings openly.
11. Don’t diminish their grief
Acknowledging grief is one of the most basic and powerful ways you can show your support. People may unintentionally diminish a loved one’s grief by saying, “You’ll get over it soon,” and “You’ll be fine.” The best way to honor someone’s true feelings and grief experiences is to ask how they feel and simply listen. Trying to decrease someone’s pain by minimizing it only makes them feel disconnected.
12. Don’t draw comparisons to your experience unless appropriate
To identify with their pain and offer support, you might be tempted to make comparisons about your losses in life. However, doing so is unnecessary and can often lead to frustration and anger for the person experiencing grief.
While it may be true that you have also experienced loss, use discretion when interjecting your experience. Only share and draw comparisons if the loss is very similar to that of your friend. Drawing inappropriate comparisons about grief can result in your friend feeling minimized.
13. Don’t comment on their appearance
It may seem fairly benign to make a statement about a grieving person’s appearance, but these comments can be damaging. Refrain from telling your grieving friend that they look tired, depressed or sad. Even comments that are meant as complimentary may make your friend feel as though they are being judged.
Commenting on physical appearance is a common practice, but during your friend’s grief, even the most well-intentioned remark can feel harmful. Passing comments about a bereaved person looking drained only reinforces what they are feeling inside. Instead, offer your support and ask how you can help.
14. Don’t push your faith on them
When a friend or loved one is grieving, it can feel compelling to share your religious or spiritual beliefs with them as a means of helping them feel better. Even though you want your friend to feel peace and comfort, resist the urge to talk about your faith with them. If your friend asks questions about your beliefs, share openly, but without pressing the matter.
15. Avoid platitudes
Platitudes should be at the top of the list of things to avoid saying to someone grieving. Phrases such as, “They’re better off now,” and, “She wouldn’t want you to be sad,” should be banned from all conversations with the bereaved. These common statements are surely meant with good intentions, but only placate and minimize the feelings of the person who is grieving.
Also, avoid impulsively asking generic questions like “how are you?” or other obvious questions.
The best thing you can offer someone who is grieving is a hug, a listening ear and a compassionate presence. No combination of words will make your friend’s pain go away. Don’t worry about saying the right thing because honestly, there is no right thing to say. Grief can be all-consuming. Just being present and offering love and kindness is all that matters.
What Do You Say To Someone Who Has Lost A Loved One?
When someone experiences a loss, knowing the right words and what to say can be a struggle. You want to find the right thing to say, yet you know there’s nothing you can say that can make up for what they’re experiencing. You don’t want to further their pain, but it’s almost always better to say something rather than nothing.
Things you might say to comfort someone experiencing the loss of a loved one include:
- “Their ceremony was lovely.” — you can talk about how nice their memorial or funeral service was. This can serve as a distraction for the pain someone might be feeling at the time.
- “Can I do (a task) for you)?” — after a loss, many people might offer help. When you’re in the midst of grief, it’s hard to even know what would be helpful for you. Rather than asking what someone needs, go ahead and volunteer to do something specific.
- “I know how much you loved them.” — this phrase shows the person suffering from grief outwardly showed their care and concern for their loved one during their life. We tend to wonder if we could have done more or look back and get angry at ourselves after we lose a loved one, so it’s a sense of solace to hear that the love for the lost person was obvious.
- “I remember when…” — sharing memories can be a comfort for someone grieving. They can think about positive memories of their loved one rather than the immediately painful ones.
- “They will be missed.” — this can be helpful because it shows that everyone will miss the person, and their grief is shared. We all want to feel like our loved ones also left a positive impact on others.
- “I’m here if you need me.” — sometimes, the simplest things are the most meaningful in grief. You can simply let someone know that if and when they need you, you’re available on their terms and timetable.
You can also simply tell someone you don’t have words, but you’re there, no matter what. It’s okay not to have the perfect words, but expressing your support can be enough.
Ways To Comfort Someone Who Has Lost A Loved One
When it comes to how to comfort someone who lost a loved one, you might also want to be able to give a meaningful gift. Sometimes, sentimental gifts for someone who lost a loved one can explain how you’re feeling better than words. Gift ideas include:
- Books about dealing with grief: there are a lot of beautiful books that are written about the subject, and they do everything from providing stories, to giving steps that people can take as they work through their own grief.
- You can personalize a camera with the photo of the person who passed away and a message about them.
- There are companies that make memory candles and they’re a sweet way to keep the presence of someone around.
- Journals are a good gift for someone who’s grieving. They can write down what they’re feeling and experiencing, and it can be a good way to guide them through a challenging time.
- You might gather photos of the person and put them into a book so their loved ones can flip through their special moments in their lifetime.
- Gift boxes and baskets can include things like coffee, tea and treats, to let someone know you’re thinking of them. You can also consider a spa kit or basket so the grieving person can practice self-care.
- Rather than flowers, you might think about sending a plant that will last for a long time or even could be planted outside eventually, as a tribute.
If you or someone you know has developed a drug or alcohol addiction out of grief, don’t wait to get help. The Recovery Village offers compassionate treatment for addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions like complicated grief. To learn more about rehab, call us today to speak with a representative who cares.
Dryden-Edwards, Roxanne, MD. “Grief: Loss of a Loved One.“>Grief: L[…] a Loved One.” MedicineNet, reviewed 2018. Accessed June 14, 2019.
Vitas Healthcare. “Techniques Used to Assist the Bereaved.“>Techniqu[…]the Bereaved.” (n.d.) Accessed June 14, 2019.
Tempesta, Daniella, LCSW. “The Perils of Platitudes–What Not To Say To Someone Who Is Grieving (And What You Can Do Instead!)“>“The P[…] Do Instead!)” HuffPost News, June 4, 2016. Accessed June 14, 2019.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.