Helping Someone Grieve; Ways Through the Process

Helping someone grieve, knowing the right thing to say to someone who has lost a loved one, is difficult. You may feel awkward trying to find the right words. If not careful, you might even stick your foot in your mouth with your best, heart-felt intentions. What can you say or do to help someone you care about go through the grieving process? Here are some of the "do's" and "don'ts":

Try to avoid saying things like "they are in a better place", "it's God's will", or "they are no longer in pain." This will not cheer the person up (as much as you would hope it would). The person grieving already realizes their loved one is in a better place, free from pain and suffering. But they miss them and this is the source of their pain.

Offering advice such as "time heals all wounds" doesn't really make a person feel very good either. This could make the person feel as if you are minimizing their pain, or their grief is on a time clock. The person may feel that they do not have permission to grieve. Heck, and let's face it, they have already told themselves "time heals all wounds", "they are in a better place", "they aren't suffering any longer" and it hasn't helped so far in their coping with loss.

Offering a simple hug can give them comfort. Don't be afraid to cry with the person or let them know you care and want to be there for them. Offer your time and "ears". Let them know that you are there when they need someone to talk to, and, if it is alright, you will call them in a week or so when things have settled down.

As much as you may want to or as much as you may think it is a good idea to offer them a drink or give them some pill to ease the pain, this is a horrible idea!!!!! This will only delay the grieving process. This type of helping someone grieve could only complicate things. The grieving person is in enough of a "fog" without having their judgment further impaired by alcohol or drugs!!!

If you can, bring them healthy things to eat and drink. When you go out to get your groceries, call them and see if they would like to go with you or ask what you can bring to them. This helps relieve any guilt or awkwardness they may feel about asking for help shopping.

Don't assume that, just because they are not talking about their loss that they are doing well!!!! Most people are afraid to burden others by talking about what they are experiencing. They may feel people are avoiding them.

Don't avoid saying the name of the pet, friend or family member who has died. This is someone who was deeply loved and hearing their name can be music to one's ears. Knowing you are not afraid to speak the name and share the memories you have of this person or pet can give the grieving individual permission to share their feelings with you as well.

In helping someone grieve, don't be afraid if talking with them makes them cry. This may be the chance for them to finally release all the suppressed emotions. Because of your openness and willingness to share, they may feel safe expressing their own emotions and finally releasing that burden.

Do be aware of "anniversaries" (dates of birth, dates of death, weddings, or special holidays). Contact them before these events to see if they would like to talk or get together. Even if you live miles away, send them a card or email to let them know you are thinking of them and you are there if they need to talk.

Know that the second year after the loss of a loved one can actually be worse than the first year. Often people have support for the first year. But, after that, it is assumed that the grieving person should be "over it by now" and they are left alone. Again, don't "assume" they are fine just because time has passed. Make yourself available to them.

Don't assume the person will call you. They may feel awkward or ashamed. If they don't seek you out, you seek them out! Call them!! Email or send a letter. Let them know you are still there for them if they need to talk.

Learn as much as you can about the grieving process including any religious, ethnic or cultural customs. Understand that the person may be experiencing anger, or guilt. They may be experiencing mood swings. Be patient. Their anger may be misdirected at you. Don't take anything too personally as you are helping someone grieve. Understand that everyone grieves differently and there is no set time table. Be aware of the signs of depression verses healthy grieving. If you are not sure, ask a professional. You can call any Hospice Agency for information and guidance.

And, above all, listen! Be willing to push past your own issues about death and dying to open your heart and listen. The grieving person may repeat themselves, repeat stories. You can point out that "you mentioned that before. I really enjoyed this story. This must have really been special. What else do you remember?" This can help them recall other events, and open any blocked memories or feelings.

Return to Coping With Grief

HOME from Helping Someone Grieve

Continue to Help a Child Grieve