How to Support Someone Who Is Grieving

Losing a loved one or something we care deeply about is an inevitable part of life, but it's also one of the most challenging experiences we face. The pain of loss can feel overwhelming, leaving us with a profound sense of emptiness and sorrow. It's a journey through grief that no one can fully prepare for, and each person navigates it in their own way and at their own pace.

In an attempt to bring attention to a subject often overlooked, here are three specialists on the most effective ways to assist someone going through grief. Keep reading for their insights, but keep in mind, there's no universal solution. As Cartwright emphasized: "There's no one-size-fits-all approach. It's about recognizing and educating yourself on grief to the best of your ability."

Reach Out

Immediately after a loss, many people worry they might be bothering the grieving individual by reaching out, and believe that, instead, they should give that person space. Alan Wolfelt, a grief counselor, stresses that the opposite is true. “Show up early on,” he said, adding: “I’d rather you go and put your foot in your mouth than to stay away. Your presence is symbolic of your love. It’s not so much what you say, it’s you showing up.”

“Some people might teach you they need to go into exile for a while and then come out,” he went on. “You still attempt to reach out, and then you match up what their style is.”

Share Memories: Talking about the person they lost and sharing fond memories can be therapeutic. Let them know that it's okay to reminisce and celebrate the life of their loved one.

What (Not) to Say 

It isn’t what you say but how you say it — with compassion — that means the most. The best thing you can do? Listen. 

“Here’s the thing: We love giving advice, and we love fixing people, but people in grief don’t need to be fixed because they’re not broken,” explained David Kessler: “They just need to be listened to and seen. Everyone wants to be seen, heard and valued.” 

Though it’s true that words matter less than actions, there are some phrases to avoid.

Be careful not to “bright side people,” said Kessler. “Bright siding people is [saying], ‘At least they’re not suffering,’ or ‘Isn’t it good that they died quickly?’ We want to allow people to authentically be themselves and grieve. That’s the best gift we can give to one another is just to say, ‘Be yourself. I’ll meet you where you are.’” 

Making comparisons should also be avoided, according to Cartwright. Refrain from saying things like, “I know how you feel,” she said, adding that though you may feel inclined to bring up your own loss as a means of relating, it’s better to simply practice deep listening. 

What to Do

When someone has experienced a deep loss, it can be difficult for them to function in their routine as normal. So in addition to just being present with the bereaved individual, consider offering help to lighten their load. 

But rather than asking what you can do, Kessler recommends paying attention to the person’s day-to-day life. “People in grief don’t know what they need,” he said, adding, “and we often think, ‘Oh, I don’t know what they need.’ Well, they’re human beings just like you.” 

If the individual has children, offer to babysit or take the kids to school or practices. If you notice dishes piling up, load the dishwasher. Dropping off food is another great way to help. And you don’t always need to wait for permission to pitch in. If you’re visiting a newly widowed friend and you see that her grass hasn’t been mowed — a task her husband used to handle, perhaps — then go ahead and cut it, Kessler suggests. “Look around and see what needs there are.” 

What about showing support around death anniversaries or the birthdays of those who died? Kessler stresses the importance of not only remembering those dates, but also the days leading up to them. 

“One of the things I think people don’t realize is that for people in grief, the days leading up to that anniversary are so much worse. So, to not wait for the day,” he explained. “To call a few days ahead and go, ‘Oh my gosh, I know your dad’s day of death is coming up, and it must be so hard. I’d love to take you to lunch. I’d love to stop by. I’m thinking of you.’ And just really don’t be afraid to do it ahead of time.” 

Get Informed

“There’s no map for grief,” according to Kessler. “It’s an organic experience, and your grief is as unique as a fingerprint.” That said, grief is a universal experience. And the more aware you are, the better you can support someone who is grieving. 

“Start reading,” Cartwright suggests. “If you love your friend …  or if you have a person at work, if you care, go and get informed about grief. Listen to all the stories. If it’s a child they’ve lost, go read stories.” She stresses that the point is to not compare timelines and emotions, but to gain a greater understanding of the experience in general. 

There are many helpful resources to aid you on your learning journey —  we recommended starting with Grief Stories

One of the best things you can do for someone who has experienced a loss is to allow them to grieve on their own terms and timeline — and the latter is often not linear. Grief is messy, the experts all emphasized, and that’s OK. 

Though it can be difficult to watch someone you love be in pain, or to feel like they’ve changed from who they used to be, resist encouraging them to return to their former self. 

“We don’t resolve grief,” Wolfelt explained. “We don’t get you back to an old you. You’re transformed. Transformation means an entire change in form. My helping goal is not resolution, it’s reconciliation. It comes from Middle English. It means to make your life good again.” 

Gift of relaxation

Giving the gift of relaxation to someone who is grieving can provide much-needed comfort during a difficult time. 

As for helping someone laugh, humour can be a powerful tool in easing the burden of grief. Here are a few ways to inject some laughter into their lives:

  1. Share Funny Memories: Reminisce about humourous moments you shared with the person they lost. Sharing laughter-filled memories can help lighten the mood.

  2. Watch a Comedy: Invite them to watch a funny movie or TV show with you. Laughter has a way of lifting spirits, even in the midst of sadness.

  3. Send Funny Messages or Memes: Send them funny texts, memes, or jokes to brighten their day. Let them know you're thinking of them and trying to bring a smile to their face. Or, the old fashioned way... call them on the land line.

  4. It is important to gauge the person's mood first: Once you've established that and they're open to it, a funny gift can indeed be a great way to bring some levity into their life during a challenging time. A funny board game to pass the time, a playful mug to remind them to smile and take a moment to relax, or some corny or rather funny socks that bring comfort in a humorous way.

You know that cliche, laughter is the best medicine. It most cases this is true.

Remember, laughter can be a healing balm, but it's important to gauge the individual's mood and comfort level before attempting to inject humour into their grieving process.



Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.