It can feel impossible to know how to support someone who is grieving. Grief is an intensely personal, and often private, process. One of the things we hear and read when we study grief is that everyone is different: some process alone, others with family and community; some need to talk, others write; some seek understanding, others immerse themselves in work.
How Do You Support Someone Who Is Grieving?
So answering the question of “how do you support someone who is grieving” isn’t easy. It also isn’t just one question: it’s a question that is unique to each person.
Even so, there are some guidelines and suggestions that can be helpful for almost everyone, regardless of circumstance or situation. Please know our intention in sharing information like this isn’t to say that you should do something a particular way. Rather, we hope to share options and thoughts that might help you as you navigate your own journey through grief, or while you try to support someone who is grieving.
How to Support Someone Who Is Grieving
Be Present. One of the most important things you can do to support someone who is grieving is to simply be there. That might mean sitting with them in silence. It could also mean taking them to the grocery store or to run errands.
The important thing here isn’t really what you do together. It’s being willing to sit with that person even when they feel like they’re not good company. That can be uncomfortable and awkward. The person grieving might not know what they need and there may be nothing that can help alleviate their grief, especially if the death of their loved one is recent.
But having company during grief can help mitigate feelings of isolation or loneliness. It can also help the person grieving remember that despite their unfathomable loss, life does continue on.
Be Flexible. In addition to simply being there to support someone who is grieving, it’s vital to stay open and flexible to their unique needs. Grief is a complicated emotion that often comes with additional emotions, like anger and despair. Sometimes a person who is grieving might make plans, thinking they’ll be able to carry them out. In reality, though, they might not feel like going to the movie or to dinner once the time comes.
By being flexible and responsive to a grieving person’s needs, you can help remind them that they are supported and loved, even when their emotions are intense.
Take the First Step. A common mistake is to tell a grieving person call if you need anything and then waiting to hear from that person. In reality, grief can stymie a person to the point of not being able to handle what most of us think of as ordinary, everyday tasks.
Also, people who are grieving often fear being a burden on others. This prevents them from reaching out to ask for help, or company, when they most need it.
You can offer support to a grieving person by reaching out. Even if your attempts are met with silence or rejections, it is an act of love to initiate communication. If you are met with voicemail, don’t just hang up. Let the person hear your voice.
Do Something. Like the previous point, don’t wait until the person who is grieving reaches out to ask for help. Do something concrete that will be helpful without asking. If it’s Fall, rake their yard. If it’s snowed, shovel their path. Drop food at their door without waiting to be let in.
Simple acts of kindness like these can relieve the burdens of everyday life that might seem monumental to someone who is deep in the throes of grief. Small kindnesses can remind them that they are loved and worthy of kindness.
Have the Hard Conversations. Often we are afraid to speak the deceased’s name or share memories of them. But saying a loved one’s name can be a comfort to a person grieving their loss. It’s a reminder that they are not the only ones grieving their loved one’s death, and it gives them permission to share their own memories, too.
Yes, it might make the person who is grieving cry. That’s ok! Sitting with them as they cry, as they grieve, is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. And speaking their loved one’s name aloud is an affirmation that their memory remains among others, too, which is a comfort to those who grieve for them.
Avoid Platitudes. You know the ones: it was for the best or it was God’s will. Generalizations like this, while well-intended, can sound trite and unfeeling to someone mourning the loss of a loved one. Instead, focus on the person with you now. Ask specific questions (How are you feeling today? instead of how are you? What time can I pick you up? instead of do you need anything?)
Don’t Rush It. Grief is uncomfortable, both for the person grieving and for the people who want to help. It might seem hopeful or optimistic to encourage someone who is grieving to move on with their life by dating again or being more active in social circles.
But doing this actually isn’t supportive, especially if the loss of a loved one is new. Remember that grief doesn’t follow a timeline and that there is no right way to grieve. Let the person who is grieving set their own pace. Let them grieve as they need to, but be there to support them.
How to Be Supportive When Someone is Grieving
Finally, one of the kindest things you can do for someone experiencing grief is to learn about how grief affects people. Having an understanding of how grief affects us opens more space for you to support a loved one without them having to educate you in the process. There are great books and resources online. We’re also a resource for you. Peruse past blog posts or contact us if we can help.