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How to Help Someone Who Is Grieving

It can be difficult to know what to say or do for a person who is grieving. You may be afraid of making them feel worse by saying the wrong thing or you may think you are being intrusive and that it’s not your place to say or do anything at all. 

But your comfort and support can make all the difference in someone’s ability to heal after experiencing a loss. Although you cannot take away their pain, there are many things you can do and say to show them that you care and help them through a difficult time.

Ways You Can Offer Help

Offering help is well intentioned, but most grieving people will turn it down. Instead of asking, “Is there anything I can do?” offer help that is specific to their needs.

You can offer to:

       Shop for groceries or run errands

       Drop off food to their house

       Take care of housework (cleaning, laundry, etc.)

       Watch their children or drive them to and from school

       Take their pets out for a walk

Things You Can Say

Words have the ability to escape us when we need them most. When speaking with a person who is grieving, this natural discomfort sometimes leads us to avoid talking about the death or change the subject entirely when the deceased person is mentioned. Expressing your concern and acknowledging someone’s loss is a step in the right direction.

Some helpful things to say may include:

       I am sorry for your loss.

       You are in my thoughts.

       I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in any way I can.

       My favorite memory of your loved one is…

       Do you want to talk about him/her?

       Please know that you can reach out at any time.

       I am here for you.

       I wish I had the right words, just know I care.

In many cases it is actually more important to listen rather than to do the talking. Take your cues from the grieving person and don’t be afraid of a silence. Sometimes saying nothing and simply being with them or offering a hug is enough.

Things to Avoid Saying

Of course we all fear the “insert foot-in-mouth” moment when the words we say have the exact opposite effect than what was originally intended. Sometimes words meant to be comforting can come across as insensitive to a grieving person.

 Some things to avoid saying include:

       I know how you feel

       He/She is in a better place

       He/She would not want you to be sad

       There is a reason for everything or it is in God’s plan

       At least he/she lived a long life, many people die young

       You’re still young enough to have another child

One of the most important things to remember is to continue to check in with the grieving person once the funeral is over. There is often an abundance of support immediately after a death and surrounding funeral services. Unfortunately, as people return to their normal routines, that support system for the grieving person often dwindles. Keep checking in and continuing to offer help and kind words. A thoughtful email or text message can go a long way.

If in the moment you still have doubts about whether you are doing or saying the right thing, just try to communicate what is in your heart the best you can, and keep it simple.