What can family and friends do to help?

When someone dies it can be difficult to know what to say, or how to help those who are grieving. Below are some suggestions which may be helpful.

  • Spend time with the bereaved person if that is what they want
  • Do not be afraid to acknowledge the death
  • Following a bereavement, people may need to keep going over the details of the death and events leading up to it – be a good listener
  • Do not be afraid to talk openly about the person who has died
  • Recognise the pain underneath any expressed anger
  • Call in for a cup of tea but do not stay too long. Try to be available, but be aware that they may also need space and that bereavement can be exhausting
  • A short note or a card can be much appreciated but long letters can be too much to cope with in the early days
  • Be there if they need someone to talk to and let them know you are not afraid of tears or strong emotions
  • Offer specific rather than general help
  • Offer to go out with them ‘shall we go out somewhere’ is much better than ‘you should get out more
  • Invite the bereaved person along to events as you would have done before
  • Remember anniversaries and occasions, which can be particularly difficult times
  • Remember the pain of bereavement does not go away after a few weeks or months, but can intensify and may run into years. The effects of bereavement may last a lifetime

Comments to avoid when comforting people who have been bereaved

  • I know how you feel”  we can never know how another may feel. You could, instead, ask your friend to tell you how they feel
  • “Look at what you have to be thankful for” They know they have things to be thankful for, but right now they are not important
  • “He’s in a better place now” The bereaved person may or may not believe this. Keep your beliefs to yourself unless asked
  • “This is behind you now, it’s time to get on with your life” Sometimes people are resistant to getting on with life because they feel this means “forgetting” their loved one. In addition, moving on is easier said than done. Grief has a mind of its own and works at its own pace.
  • Statements that begin with “You should” or “You will” These statements are too directive.  Instead you could begin your comments with: “Have you thought about…” or “You might…”