Helping a grieving person

It can be tough to know what to say or do when someone you care about is grieving. It is common to feel helpless, awkward or unsure. You may be afraid of intruding, saying the wrong thing or making the person feel even worse. Or maybe you feel there is little you can do to make things better.

While you cannot take away the pain of the loss, you can provide much needed comfort and support. There are many ways to help a grieving friend or family member, starting with letting the person know you care.

What you need to know about bereavement and grief

The death of a loved one is one of life’s most difficult experiences. Bereaved people struggle with many intense and frightening emotions, including depression, anger and guilt. Often, they feel isolated and alone in their grief. Having someone to lean on can help them through the grieving process.

Do not let discomfort prevent you from reaching out to someone who is grieving. Now, more than ever, your support is needed. You might not know exactly what to say or what to do, but that’s okay. You do not need to have answers or give advice. The most important thing you can to for a grieving person is simply be there. Your support and caring presence will help them cope with the pain and begin to heal.

Understanding the bereavement process

The better your understanding of grief and how it is healed, the better equipped you will be to help a bereaved friend or family member.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve

Grief does not always unfold in orderly, predictable stages. It can be an emotional roller coaster, with unpredictable highs, lows and setbacks. Everyone grieves differently, so avoid telling bereaved people what they ‘should’ be feeling or doing.

Grief may involve extreme emotions and behaviours

Feeling of guilt, anger, despair and fear are common. A grieving person may yell to the heavens, obsess about death, lash out at loved ones or cry for hours on end. Bereaved people need reassurance that what they are feeling is normal. Do not judge them or take their grief reactions personally.

There is no set timetable for grieving

There is no timetable for how long grief lasts, or how you should feel after a particular time. For many people, recovery after bereavement takes 18 to 24 months, but for others, the grieving process may be longer or shorter. Do not pressure bereaved people to move on or make them feel like they have been grieving too long, this can actually slow their healing.