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Grief support

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Expert Grief Support

Unfortunately we all experience loss at some point in our lives. With it comes the grief of losing a loved one and the void they leave in our lives. The way in which we deal and cope with that grief though will differ from person to person.

But one thing that we all need is the support and help of family and friends. Struggling with a bereavement alone is a burden no one should have to endure.

If you know someone coping with a loss it can be hard to know what to do. You want to comfort them, offer support and try to help in any way you can. But knowing what to say or do, what’s appropriate and what isn’t, and how to best be there for them during such a difficult time is itself tricky.

In order to try and help understand the right way to approach such a tough subject we reached out to some of the top grief professionals and counsellors and asked them their advice on how best to support someone who is grieving.

We were overwhelmed with the responses. The answers were insightful, practical and went above and beyond in the detail they included. In fact this article is now over 6000 words long (and even has some video content)!

So please have a read of the answers below for a huge range of incredible advice and tips. And if you’re looking for extra support or help dealing with grief and loss then a good place to start is the websites found in the author bios of each contributor.

Dr Jill Grossdr Jill GrossTom GoldenTom GoldenMarty Tousleydr Marty TousleyDr Arielle Schwartzdr Jill Scott
Dr Melissa EstavilloDr Melissa EstavilloAshley MielkeAshley MielkeDebbie RambisDebbie RambisJimmy EdmondsJane Harris
Dr Erin ThompsonDr Erin Hope ThompsonMeg EifrigMeg EifrigVictoria JonesVictoria Moore JonesSusan HarrisonSusan Harrison
Shirley EnebradShirley EnebradGary RoeGary RoeTammy AdamsTammy AdamsAdriana MarchioneAdriana Marchione
Kristi HugstadKristi HugstadVirginia A. SimpsonVirginia SimpsonMelinda RuppertMelinda RuppertGeorgena EgglestonGeorgena Eggleston
Robbie KaplanGary RoeTeresa DonigerTeresa DonigerTony McLarenBreathing Space LogoDr Tina BarrettDr Tina Barrett
Yvonne TullochYvonne TullochJanet RobertsJanet Roberts

Dr Jill Gross - Psychologist, Grief Counselor, Therapist

Website: http://www.drjillgross.com

Reaching out/Bringing It Up/Acknowledge The Loss: People often refrain from contacting the bereft because they are afraid of upsetting him or her. Your loved one is already upset—what better time to hear from a trusted friend? I’ve heard so many grievers say they would rather their friends say the wrong thing than say nothing at all.

Listen: You can’t take your loved one’s pain away. Your loved one knows this. Grief longs to be witnessed and attentive listening is a way to show your loved one that you care.

Send a card: Sending a card is a respectful, pleasant surprise for those who may need some space but still want to know they are thought of. Do this about a month after the memorial or funeral service is over, the loved ones have gone home, and the casseroles have stopped coming, as this is one of the loneliest time for mourners. It’s also nice to send cards on birthdays, anniversaries, and/or any other occasion that may remind your loved one of the person s/he lost.

Sharing positive memories: Not only does talking about the deceased validate your loved one’s grief, it connects them with the things they loved most about the person they lost. If you didn’t personally know the deceased, encourage your friend to talk about a favorite characteristic, quirk, or memory involving the deceased.

Drop off food/flowers: Hunger is a basic sign of our aliveness. Providing food is a loving way to acknowledge and nurture your loved one’s aliveness when he or she may not be able to do this for him or herself. If your friend associates a certain dish our cuisine with the deceased person, surprise your loved one by dropping that dish off, with a card and flowers.

Take nothing personally: Grief is a highly individualized process and has little to do with anyone but the griever. Further, none of us is our best selves when we are acutely grieving. Thus, two of the best gifts we can give mourners are patience and grace. Much of what people do when they are grieving isn’t personal; try not to take it personally.

Donations to charity in the deceased’s honor: This is a lovely idea, particularly if the cause also means something to the griever.

Tom Golden, LCSW - Psychotherapist, Grief Educator & Author

Website: http://webhealing.com/

Marty Tousley - Grief Counselor

Website: http://www.griefhealing.com

First, learn about the grief experience, and let go of some of the harmful myths you may have heard about grief and healing. Don’t assume that the person who seems to be experiencing little pain is “doing well” with grief. Take some time to review your own personal experiences of death and grief, recalling who died, what was helpful and not helpful to you, and how you felt about it.

Acknowledge the loss. Either in person, by telephone or in writing, let the mourner know who you are, how you became aware of the loss and that you care.

Listen with your heart, with honest concern and curiosity, respectfully and without judging, without criticism, without giving advice, without being the expert with all the answers.

Understand the uniqueness of grief: Everyone is different, and is shaped by experiences in his or her own life.

Be patient; the grief process takes a long time; let the mourner proceed at his or her own pace.

Recognize that, although you cannot take the pain of loss away, you can enter into it with the person and hold space for him or her.

Remain available long after the death occurs, when the mourner will need you the most.

Dr Arielle Schwartz, PhD

Website: https://drarielleschwartz.com/

We are not meant to grieve alone. Grief is deeply vulnerable, profoundly raw, and at it’s core a social communication. When we show up for another the most important thing we can offer is our presence. Simply that. It is not necessary to say the “right” thing because there is no “right” thing to say. It is not necessary to have the answer because there are no answers. It is important to simply let the other know that we are there and that we are not afraid. The other needs to know that they do not have to take care of us in their time of grief. Sometimes this involves being there and sitting in silence, breathing or offering a nod of reassurance. Sometimes this involves attending to the needs of the moment. Like doing the laundry or the dishes–attending to the details of daily living by keeping a sense of normalcy and rhythm within the environment. Overall, holding space for someone in grief is about attending to the outer container so that the the person in grief can go on the inward journey needed during this vulnerable time.

Dr Melissa Estavillo - Clinical Psychologist and Counselling

Website: http://www.drestavillo.com

For many of us, the word grief is something that brings up a vast array of emotions from pain and confusion, to discomfort and avoidance. As Americans of the 21st century, we are blessed to live in a country and time that can shield us from the pain and loss frequently felt by others of another time or another place. Our great fortunate has allows many of us to live long and healthy lives; however, often leaves us at a loss for words when the tragedy of loss or death does occur.

Older theories of grief leave us with a basic framework of loss but fail to paint the real picture of what normal grief looks like or what we can do to help. One of the first and most well known theorists on grief, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, identified 5 stages of grief which she sated we progress through in a linear order: first Denial, then Anger, on to Barganing, leading to Depression, and ending with Acceptance. And while many of these emotions are felt by a grieving person, this cannot begin to capture the true essence of an individual’s process of grief. At lease it did not for Dr. Kubler-Ross, who on her death bed expressed the combined feelings of fear, anger, confusion, and peace, a grouping of emotion that only true grief can combine.

Like many things in life, grief is complex. It is an entity with very little edges, boundaries or similar pathways. It comes, it goes, and can surprise us 5 months, 5 years, and even 50 years later. It is a journey that no two individuals can experience in the same way, even in the face of the same loss.

Therefore, the question is often raised as to how we can experience this complicated emotion and how can we be there for others going through it.

  1. Grief is like a wound. It cannot heal if it is not allowed to air out. Allow yourself and others the space to grieve freely; however that may look and whenever it may come out.
  2. Grief takes time. Just about the time we may feel that we are over a loss, we can be flooded with grief again. Like waves washing up onto the shore, our grief may come and go. And like a scar, though healed, will always leave a mark.
  3. Grief cannot be fixed. Instead it is a journey that we must go though without short cuts or fast tracks. While spiritual sayings, religious scripture, and more positive thinking may feel like the perfect antidote to help people come to terms with the pain of grief, it often times is not. Though these things may be true at their core, when said as a means to bypass grief or damper the tension that true grief brings, it cheapens their meaning and trivializes the feelings of those in pain.
  4. Grief is healthy. Grief that leaves us in a state of confusion, plummets us into the depths of sadness, makes us question our deepest beliefs, and shake our fists in anger and rage–this grief is the mark of our humanity, the evidence of our ability to love and lose and love again. Respect its complexity. Sit in its tension. Just listen.

For those of us who have lost: Imprint Exercise

Often we do not take the time to reflect on how an individual has impacted our lives and influenced parts of who we are. Although our loved one is gone, parts of them remain alive and vibrant in each of us. Many of these imprints may be wonderful and some may be painful too. Take some time to reflect on the imprints that these individuals have left on your life in the following ways.

  1. My love one has impacted my mannerisms and gestures in the following ways:
  2. My loved one has impacted my way of speaking and communicating in the following ways:
  3. My love one has impacted my work and pastime activities in the following ways:
  4. My loved one has impacted my basic personality in the following ways:
  5. My loved one has impacted my values and beliefs in the following ways:
  6. My loved one has impacted my feelings about myself in the following ways:

Ashley Mielke, B.A., M.Sc. MFT - Psychologist & Certified Grief Recovery Specialist

Website: http://healmyheart.ca/

Grieving people want and need to feel heard, feel seen, and feel felt. It is so important to hold space for them to share their feelings and speak their emotional truth without judgement, criticism, or analysis. It is difficult for us to witness pain and suffering in those we care about, so naturally we wish to mend those feelings by offering advice or intellectualizing their grief. Instead of saying comments like, “don’t worry, it’ll be okay, “just give it time”, or “keep busy”, we really just need to listen with our hearts and provide a space that is safe to share and express normal and natural feelings. This expression, in a trusting relationship, is an essential key to our emotional healing. It doesn’t take any special skills or training to listen from the heart, it just takes a willingness to let go of the need to make everything better for the other person. Simply offering a hug and saying nothing at all can be a powerful act of love, acceptance, and compassion.

Debbie Rambis - Executive Director at The Compassionate Friends

Website: https://www.compassionatefriends.org

Helping someone who has lost a child, grandchild, or sibling can be very perplexing to others who have not experienced such a devastating loss. Because it is generally a loss that occurs outside of the natural order of life, we ourselves do not know how to tell someone to help us. No one wants to think about losing any loved one! But as our grandparents and parents age, we start to plan even though it is nothing we want. You may have experience times when you mind has sidetracked itself wondered how you might take on holidays without the support of our parents or grandparents. But, when someone starts to think of losing a child, one’s mind immediately stops and changes focus as no one ever wants to think about this! Due to this, all of us are totally unprepared in knowing how to grieve or knowing how to support someone who is grieving.

My best advice is to be proactive. If you say, “Call me if you need anything,” you are likely to never receive a call. After my son’s drowning, I did not want to get out of bed. However, life around me went on. The mail started to stack up in the mailbox, the trash needed emptied, and things in the refrigerator went stale. If you are close enough, stop by and explain you are there for only a few minutes to empty trash, tidy the bathroom, and start a load of clothes. If you are too far away, contact one of the many food delivery services, such as Uber Eats or Grub Hub, to provide a warm, already prepared meal.

One of the most important ways to support is simply to remember. That sounds like a very easy one but you may not realize all that needs remembered. For example, for over a year every week when it was Wednesday (the day my son drowned) was horrible. For years, I always cringed on the second of every month, the date he drowned. As our mind come to terms with the finality, it you remember these triggers, you can make it softer for us. To do this, make a calendar reminder to send an email, to do a quick text, or to make a phone call. The message does not need to be lengthy but rather simply letting the person know you are thinking of them and the loved one that died.

Just be there for the person grieving. You do not have to say anything. It is enough to be present and to offer a should to lean on. Do not be afraid to say their name or to recall a fond memory. We will cry but you are not making us sad. The best present is to say their name! Finally, remember that No One Need Walk Alone. The Compassionate Friends is there to provide support to parents, grandparents, and siblings who have lost a child at any age from any cause.

Jane Harris & Jimmy Edmonds - The Good Grief Project

Website: http://thegoodgriefproject.co.uk

We always say in our Q&As after screenings that the greatest help is when people come alongside us in our grief, rather than trying to make us better (which is often for their benefit so they don’t have to worry for us any more). There is no getting better, it’s about finding a place inside you where your grief can live, as part of you and finding acceptance of that.

Dr Erin Hope Thompson - Director of The Loss Foundation

Website: http://www.thelossfoundation.org/

When people don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving they may say nothing at all or offer platitudes, e.g. “Time is a healer”. Or they may not want to bring it up in case it upsets the person they are speaking to, however, we suggest it’s better to not go quiet on loss, and encourage people to say something rather than nothing. Instead of trying to find the “right” thing to say, reach out to someone to let them know you are thinking of them, or to let people know that you don’t know what to say but that you are there for them. If you have any memories of the person who died, it can be really nice for those left behind to hear them. It reminds them that the person they loved lives on in the memory of others.

Meg Eifrig, MA - Licensed Clinical Professional Counsellor

Website: http://www.griefcounselor.org/

Continue to show up for the grieving person. Often times the person who is grieving does not have the energy to reach out or return your call/text/email. Please don’t take this personally. Continue to call/text periodically, but don’t overwhelm. This lets the person know you have not forgotten them and that you plan to be there even after most people have moved on into their day to day lives. You can even write, is it OK for me to keep reaching out to you? Instead of asking “how are you?” You can say,” I am here to listen whenever you are ready.” Or I will stop by on (specific date) and bring some groceries or a meal. There are times when grieving people need some space and times when they just need someone to be there with them, even if it is to sit in silence. If visiting them is an option, make a point of doing that. If you are bringing them something, let them know it is ok if they are not up for a visit. You can leave your gift or food in their mailbox or in a cooler. Make sure they know nothing is required of them.

One of the many struggles for grievers is that they often do not know what they need or how to articulate it. Make time to find out what your grieving person needs. Perhaps there is a way for them to let you know when they want to talk about their loss and a way for them to let you know when they don’t. In my work, I sometimes hear clients say that they appreciate when someone asks questions first. For example,” I have a video/photo of your loved one. Would you like me to send it to you now or would that be too hard today?” This allows for the person to say, “Hey not today but please keep that video or photo for when I am ready.” It can take some time for the grieving person to
re-orient themselves enough to figure out how to express their needs. Be patient.

Victoria Moore-Jones - Life Coach & Grief Specialist

Website: http://www.projectgrief.com/

The best possible thing you can do in any situation of loss and grief when trying your best to help, is to just LISTEN. Be there and just be someone who can offer empathy and a listening ear. Everyone usually does the opposite, and this causes so many long term problems as well as leaving the griever feeling isolated and alone. Well meaning people often inadvertently cause harm by saying some euphemism of some sort or trying to fix or advice. Grievers do not need this as they are grieving, they are not broken. Just listen to how they feel and continue offering no words of advice just hugs abound and words of empathy as and when needed. Try to make sure your loved one is not left alone as being around people is the best thing after loss, not isolation or ‘time alone.’
These things offer a simple and very powerful first response to aid those in grief.

Susan K. Harrison - Coordinator of Spiritual Care, Erie Shores

Website: http://www.thehospice.ca

LISTEN, Listen and listen some more
Be willing to sit with a grieving person in silence, let them talk when they want, let them express whatever emotions they are feeling (without judgment)
Invite a grieving person to tell you stories about the person they lost; some ways to encourage those stories are to ask curious questions like: how did you and your loved one spend time together? Did they have a sense of humor? Did they have a nick name for you? What will you/are you missing most about them? Did they have any quirky characteristics or habits?
Recognize that grief is a normal healthy response to loss, not an illness we need to cure or fix.
Grief comes to everyone uniquely; for some grief comes in waves, for others it shows up in fits and starts, for some it is sadness, for others it shows up as anger, for others it may be a compulsive need to clean or organize; everyone’s grief is different, and their way of grieving is normal for them, even if it’s different than how we would do it.
For many people grief feels like a fog in the early weeks and months – they may not be themselves personality wise, or their habits change, or they may seem extra forgetful, and it’s hard to make decisions – even little mundane decisions — they need our patience and understanding
Grief takes time, and for many it feels like the world is rushing them to “get over it” just when they are starting to come out of the initial fog. Many people get lots of support in the initial days and weeks after a loss, but they are hurting just as much 3+ months later, and they need us to be able to listen and be present to their sadness and loss, as much as the earlier days.
Remember grieving people especially at the holidays, birthdays, anniversary dates – not just the first year after a loss, but consecutive years after a loss.
When we lose someone we also lose access to their friends and their work place stories/acquaintances, extended family connections, and other social circles they were a part of and brought to our own lives — sometimes we lose access to social status or our place of residence and other big lifestyle changes – this makes our losses so much bigger than the loss of that individual relationship.

Shirley Enebrad - Author, Speaker, and Certified Grief Counselor

Website: http://shirleyenebrad.com

In my opinion, the best way to support a person who is grieving is when you write the note in the sympathy card offer to be there to listen whenever he or she is ready to talk about the death and what emotions are coming to the surface. “It’s okay to feel angry, sad, relieved, hopeless, confused or whatever, so just know that I will be here night or day to listen. I care and I want to help.” You can also tell him or her that you will check-in periodically to see how he or she is feeling, and then do it.

Gary Roe -
Author, Speaker, and Grief Specialist

Website: http://garyroe.com

Show up and listen. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. In fact, you don’t have to say anything at all. Just your presence is a huge gift. A kind hand on the shoulder, a warm hug, and a compassionate look in your eyes can speak volumes. Don’t try to fix it. This can’t be fixed. Don’t try to make them feel better. You won’t be able to. Instead, put all your agendas aside and, as much as possible, enter their world and walk with them in their grief. Even if you only do this for a few seconds, most likely they will feel cared for and supported. This is one definition of love – meeting people where they are and walking with them in their stuff.

Adriana Marchione - Filmmaker, Arts Therapist and Educator

Website: https://www.adrianamarchione.com/individual-sessions/creative-grief-counseling/

I would not say that I’m an expert on grief, but I do know grief and loss from a very intimate perspective having experienced the loss of my husband at a young age. My late husband was a musician and I myself am an artist and arts therapist with close to 30 years of experience working in the language of the arts. When I had to face devastating loss, it was affirmed to me that the arts could help lighten the emotional weight. The arts in general can offer release and deepen understanding about life’s most difficult situations by expressing one’s feelings through music, song, paint, poetry, dance. We are given the opportunity through creativity to tell our story of loss with an honest voice. Shakespeare appeals to us as someone who knew grief intimately, “Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak Whispers o’er the fraught heart and bids it break.” It is important to remember that we are built for loss. It is an inevitable part of life, and if we can find resources to help us move through it, true healing can happen. The arts are an ancient language, primal and accessible to us all. Our modern society often doesn’t respect the time we need to grieve or make transitions, but art helps us get beyond time and ordinary reality. Creativity allows us to listen more deeply to what needs to be felt and expressed. We can take art in through books, poetry, theater, film, or let expression out by journaling, drawing, dancing, singing and the list goes on. Art has never let me down; it has been a safe and steady companion through life, and a refuge in grief.

Tammy Adams -Certified Grief Recovery Method® Specialist

Website: http://www.tadams.ca/

In our North American culture we have been socialized as a society to believe that life is about “getting” things. Regardless of the education or experience the majority of us have not been taught or prepared to deal with “losing” things. We fail to realize that grief is emotional and we do our best to support others from an intellectual perspective. While the cause of the loss is intellectual. To the person who is affected it is 100% emotional. It is not their mind that is broken it is a heart that is broken.

Grief is a normal and natural reaction, the feelings you and I have following a loss are also normal and natural. The problem is we have all been socialized to believe that these feelings are abnormal and unnatural. We are supported with tools that were never designed to move individuals through their pain to the other side of their grief.

The most important thing to understand is that there are not stages of grief that every griever will experience. Each and every broken relationships will be grieved on an individual basis based on the griever’s unique relationship with that person.

4 out of 5 things grievers hear after a loss are not helpful. A study released in 1984 concluded that there are 141 comments that are so common that there is a 95% chance that a grieving person is likely to hear most of them within 72 hours of the death of a loved one. Of these 141 comments only 19 comments are actually helpful because they are being offered from an intellectual perspective.

Things to NEVER say

  • I know how you feel
  • Be strong for…
  • Be grateful you had them so long
  • Keep busy
  • He or she had a full life
  • It was just God’s will
  • You should be over it by now
  • It just takes time

Things TO say

  • I can’t imagine how you must be feeling
  • I can’t imagine how heartbreaking…that must be for you?
  • What was your relationship like?
  • Could you tell me about it?
  • What happened?
  • How did you find out?

In the end grievers just want to be heard. The best support you can offer a griever is to be “a heart with ears”. No criticism, suggestions, or analysis. Just simply to listen, for as long as it takes.

Kristi Hugstad - Grief Recovery Specialist

Website: https://www.thegriefgirl.com/

Sometimes just a display of affection, a hug, holding their hand, offering a shoulder to cry on, is more powerful than anything you can say.
Instead of saying, “call me if you need anything, I’m here for you” just show up. Be there without them having to ask. Bring them food, mow the lawn, observe what they need help with and make sure it gets done. Recruit friends and neighbors and assign tasks. This way everyone feels they are doing whatever they can to express their love and concern.

Virginia A. Simpson, Ph.D., FT - Bereavement Care Specialist

Website: https://www.drvirginiasimpson.com/

Through my work and the privilege of listening to so many stories, I have come to wonder where people get their ideas about how another person is supposed to grieve. Here’s a test for you:

1. How long does it take to recover after someone you love has died?
2. When should a person begin to “get on with their lives?”
3. Do you think it’s better to mention the deceased’s name to the grieving person or to avoid mentioning the name so that you won’t make that person cry?
4. Do you think it’s a good idea to tell a grieving person how strong they are?

You can figure out the answers to these questions by understanding what grieving people want you to know about them.

1. I am not strong. I’m just numb. When you tell me I am strong, I feel that you don’t see me.
2. I will not recover. This is not a cold or the flu. I’m not sick. I’m grieving and that’s different. I will not always be grieving as intensely, but I will never forget my loved one and rather than recover, I want to incorporate his life and love into the rest of my life. That person is part of me and always will be, and sometimes I will remember him with joy and other times with a tear. Both are okay.
3. I don’t have to accept the death. Yes, I have to understand that it has happened and it is real, but there are just some things in life that are not acceptable.
4. Please don’t avoid me. You can’t catch my grief. My world is painful, and when you are too afraid to call me or visit or say anything, you isolate me at a time when I most need to be cared about. If you don’t know what to say, just come over, give me a hug or touch my arm, and gently say, “I’m sorry.” You can even say, “I just don’t know what to say, but I care, and want you to know that.”
5. Please don’t say, “Call me if you need anything.” I’ll never call you because I have no idea what I need. Trying to figure out what you could do for me takes more energy than I have. So, in advance, let me give you some ideas:

(a) Bring food.
(b) Offer to take my children to a movie or game so that I have some moments to myself.
(c) Send me a card on special holidays, birthdays (mine, his or hers), or the anniversary of the death, and be sure and mention her name. You can’t make me cry. The tears are here and I will love you for giving me the opportunity to shed them because someone cared enough about me to reach out on this difficult day.
(d) Ask me more than once to join you at a movie or lunch or dinner. I may say “no” at first or even for a while, but please don’t give up on me because somewhere down the line, I may be ready, and if you’ve given up, then I really will be alone.

6. Try to understand that this is like I’m in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language and have no map to tell me what to do. Even if there were a map, I’m not sure right now I could understand what it was saying. I’m lost and in a fog. I’m confused.
7. When you tell me what I should be doing, then I feel even more lost and alone. I feel bad enough that my loved one is dead, so please don’t make it worse by telling me I’m not doing this right.
8. Please don’t call to complain about your husband, your wife, or your children. Right now, I’d be delighted to have my loved one here no matter what they were doing.
9. Please don’t tell me I can have other children or need to start dating again. I’m not ready. And maybe I don’t want to. And besides, what makes you think people are replaceable? They aren’t. Whoever comes after, will always be someone different.
10. I don’t even understand what you mean when you say, “You’ve got to get on with your life.” My life is going on, but it may not look the way you think it should. This will take time and I never will be my old self again. So please, just love me as I am today, and know, that with your love and support, the joy will slowly return to my life. But I will never forget and there will always be times that I cry.

Melinda Ruppert, LCPC - Grief and Loss Counseling

Website: http://www.melindaruppertlcpc.com/

The most important thing is to be present and to listen. If you are unable to see or talk to the person and have to provide support from afar then a comforting note or card is perfect. Be sure not to say “I know just how you feel” or use any platitudes (God doesn’t give you any more than you can handle, for example) that could be perceived as insensitive. It is always best to take your cue from the grieving person and let them guide you in knowing what to say/not say. If you know of something that would be helpful to the grieving person (running errands, dropping off groceries etc) just do it, it can put a lot of pressure on the person if you say “Let me know if you need anything.”

Georgena Eggleston, MA, LSP,CRS
Trauma Specialist/Grief Guide

Website: http://www.beyondyourloss.com/

1. Take 3 minutes to sit in silence and breath filling your heart with love before you knock on the door to visit, send a text, make a phone call, make a meal or write a greeting card.
2. REMEMBER… Grief is NOT a disease to cure or a problem to fix. It is NOT a life sentence.
3. Then ask in person, phone or text, How are you in this moment? Remember this is the ONLY moment we have.
4. Then listen and reflect. For example. They say: “Exhausted.” You reflect” Yes, grief IS exhausting.” They say “Oh this hurts so much.” You acknowledge their pain with ” Yes, this is SO painful.” Simply BE with them. Present to them. This is THIER process and you are there because you love them and you, too will grow from this.

Robbie Kaplan - Condolence Expert & Author

Website: https://www.wordsthatcomfort.com/

The most helpful way to support friends and loved ones grieving a loss is by being present. Show up for the funeral or memorial service and the luncheon, reception, or Shiva following the service. Maintain a presence in the life of the bereaved through emails, phone calls, visits, and notes. If you can sustain a presence in your friend or loved one’s life, you will not only help them mourn their loss, but provide a continuum so your relationship will survive this life-altering experience.

Teresa Doniger, LPC - Grief and Trauma Psychotherapist

Website: https://www.wendtcenter.org/

What I often hear clients tell me is that responses such as “I am sorry for your loss” fall flat because the person grieving does not want or need others to be sorry. People who are grieving sometimes simply want and need another person’s presence and company, a non-judgemental ear to listen to them, and the patience and respect of others to allow the grieving person to take as much time as they need before “jumping back into” the normal swing of things.

A statement such as: “I am here for you.” Or, asking “How can I help?” Or, simply showing up with food, flowers or other things that the grieving person enjoys can go much farther than the typical response of, “I am sorry for your loss.”

Tony McLaren - National Coordinator of Breathing Space

Website: http://breathingspace.scot/

Grief is our natural reaction to loss and can include a whole succession of feelings and emotions. Some people may experience feelings such as shock, denial, anxiety or confusion. Other common emotions include anger, blame, guilt and regret. Sadness and depression can leave us feeling isolated and alone. Others may even experience a sense of relief after a death. As part of our grief, we may also experience physical symptoms such as insomnia and muscle pains. For many, coping with losing a loved one is the most distressing experience we will ever face.
Grief is a very personal journey, which cannot be hurried. Being with an individual and offering support to someone whilst they manage their feelings and emotions can be invaluable. Remember that there is no particular ‘time-frame’ that someone should follow to ‘get over’ their grief.

How you can offer support

  • Make yourself available – the feelings above are a normal and unpleasant part of grief. By helping that person accept their thoughts and feelings and confide in you, it can help them to work through their emotions. Be sure though to watch your time boundaries, as you cannot be with someone all of the time.
  • Empathetic listening – if a person has taken the time to share their personal feelings with you, be open to their perspective and attend to the conversation at hand. Make the effort to seek to appreciate how they are feeling and try not pass judgement.
  • Normalise grief – dispel concerns that something is wrong with how that person is grieving. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and everyone deals with death differently. As strange as some emotions may seem, accepting and recognising those feelings can help people learn from them.
  • Signpost to support – there are many organisations which can provide helpful support to anyone experiencing grief or supporting someone through bereavement. Organisations such as Cruse Bereavement Care (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and Cruse Bereavement Scotland, offer advice and guidance.
  • Self care – remember to make time for yourself. It can be emotionally exhausting to be a close support to someone who is grieving, so it’s important to look after yourself during this difficult time too.

Dr Tina Barrett, EdD, LCPC - Executive Director of Tamarack Grief Resource Center

Website: http://www.tamarackgriefresourcecenter.org

When someone in your family or friendship circle experiences a death, there are several things you can do to be supportive.

  • Consider your personal grief history and how it influences your perspective on loss.
  • Be careful not to assume that your friend or family will feel exactly as you do now or like you did in a similar situation.
  • Follow the lead of the grieving person.
  • The person experiencing the loss will give vague guidelines about how they want to express themselves.
  • Do not be afraid to ask about their loved one or speak their name.
  • Listen attentively.
  • If the friend is not talking about loss, don’t assume the loss has not affected them.
  • Reach out and show affection.
  • Let them know they are loved and cared for. Offer your presence and support as the person experiences their individual grief response.
  • Encourage your family member or friend to share their memories and feelings.
  • Track and honor significant dates and holidays.
  • Be honest and loving in responding to questions and conversations.
  • Provide opportunities with your family member or friend for silence, talk, creative outlets, and movement.
  • Offer help in a specific way (i.e. “Can I walk the dog or help with shopping?) Allow time to grieve, and then more time.
  • Provide resources for support groups.
  • Allow and encourage questions- it is okay to not have answers.
  • You cannot fix it. Just being there to support them is enough.

Rev Canon Yvonne Richmond Tulloch MA -
Founder & Chair of AtALoss.org

Website: https://www.ataloss.org

My summary of the best way to help a grieving person is ‘show up, shut up and shower’. In other words have the courage to be in touch and visit, listen to what has happened and is going on for them, and shower them with practical help and good things. Asking the person what happened and listening to their story will help them to process their loss, and by being there for them and journeying with them (for as long as it takes) with loving thoughts and care, you will help them to get through the hardest of times and enable them in due course back on their feet. Also, tell them early on about the AtaLoss.org’s website, which signposts the bereaved to appropriate and local support services (www.ataloss.org). Grieving people need to understand what they’re going through and find others who have survived their situation if they are to have hope.

Janet Roberts -
Executive Director Centering Corporation and Grief Digest

Website: http://www.centering.org/

One of the best ways to support someone who’s grieving is helping them to find resources that can guide them through their loss

Every year, many people say to me, “This book changed my life!”

When it comes to finding the perfect book, journal, DVD, or CD to help you through the grieving process, I believe, knowledge is power. Stories, or facts about grief, can be healing and can give you the supportive information you need to find the light at the end of the tunnel.

If you are not sure where to start, I have compiled a list of questions you can ask yourself while searching for information, support, and hope through resources of all kinds.

  1. How much reading do you want to start off with? (There are four-page pamphlets to books with hundreds of pages.)
  2. Do you want to dive into a good book or start off with a little bit of help at a time?
  3. Do you find comfort in personal stories or just supportive information?
  4. Do you want real information from someone who has been through it? Or do you want to know the facts about grief?

Certainly, you don’t have to limit yourself to just books. Journals are a very healing way to write out your feelings—you can put the memories you don’t want to forget on paper.

Or, maybe you don’t feel like reading at the moment. You might prefer to watch a DVD about a an individual who survived an unthinkable tragedy and has somehow found the strength to carry on. If that is too much to think about, a relaxing CD designed to help those who are grieving, written and composed by someone who understands, might be the right choice for you. The great thing about having some selected grief resources at your fingertips is that they are available to you 24/7. And, if some of the content inspires you, you can go through it as many times as you need to during the day or at 3 am when you can’t sleep.

Does a book sound overwhelming? You don’t have to read the whole book at once. Sometimes a page a day is just the right amount for you. Can’t get enough of books? Check out the selection at your local library . We’ve all heard the phrase, “There’s nothing like a good book.” Well, it’s true. Actually, I think it should say: “There’s nothing like a good grief resource.”


If you’ve got this far then you’ve probably read and digested a whole lot of advice. While everyone had different ideas on how to support someone grieving there were some key takeaways that kept coming up:

Be there – it may seem obvious but just being present and with the person grieving, offering a shoulder to lean or cry on is so important. Throughout all of the professionals advice this came up time and time again. If you take one piece of advice away from this that should be it.

Listen – listening was almost as universally recommended as being present. If it’s sitting in silence or offering an empathetic ear, just let them express themselves and be there to listen, in a completely non judgemental way, to whatever it is they need to say.

Offer Help – being there to help with the day-to-day normality of life that has to carry on whilst they grieve is also so important. Offer to help with things like the cooking, or alternatively bring some food for them. Run some errands that need doing, offer to pick up their kids from school etc.

Supporting anyone who is grieving is complex and there is no one size fits all for doing so. But hopefully you will have learnt and taken some advice from all the amazing contributions and be better prepared for being there to support your friends and family when they lose a loved one.

For further grief advice and help please use these resources:

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Ways to Support Someone Who's grieving

When someone you know experiences a loss it can be hard to know what to say and do. You may have already sent a sympathy card with message or bouquet of flowers but want to help and offer your support further, but aren’t sure how, and definitely don’t want to end up offending them. This is understandable but shouldn’t stop you from trying to be there for a friend or family member when they need it most.

Whilst it’s a minor problem compared to what they’re going through it’s not a bad thing to consider the best way you can be there for them. If you get it right then they will appreciate greatly from the comfort feeling like they’re not alone.

So to avoid any awkwardness or worsening of their grief follow the steps and recommendations below. Your support can be a huge benefit to helping someone through one of the hardest periods they will experience.

Get it right and you will be an invaluable source of strength and comfort to them. But mainly, more than anything else, just remember to be there for them.

Table of Contents
1. Listen
2. Embrace Silence
3. Be Patient
4. Don't Judge
5. Be Direct
6. Offer Help
7. Do an Activity
8. Share an Experience
9. What Not to Say
10. Avoid Religion
11. No Comparisons
12. Think Long-Term
Further Tips
Ways to Support a Grieving Child
Depression and Suicide


You are probably more concerned with what you should and shouldn’t be saying but knowing when to just sit and listen to them is important. Let them express their grief.

Don’t attempt to change the subject and avoid talking about what you think they will find uncomfortable. Allow them to make that decision.

If they want to talk about their loved one then they should. They may feel the need to keep them from being forgotten. So whilst you shouldn’t pressure them to talk freely about their loss if they don’t want to you should let them know you are their to listen if they wish to.

  • Just listen and let them talk. Don’t be afraid of silence either.
  • Don’t try to change or avoid the subject of their loss. If they are want to and are comfortable with talking about it then let them.
  • Ask appropriate questions. Be gentle and supportive, not pushy or intrusive. Let them open up in their own time – “Do you feel like talking?”, “I’m here for you if you want to talk”
  • Do not force them to open up. Like the questions above let them know your there for them but it should all be at their own pace.

Embrace Silence

Following on from listening you should accept that silence will be a big part of comforting someone who’s grieving. They will often not want to talk, but just having someone their with them will be of comfort.

You don’t have to say anything but offer some nonverbal gestures that show your support – holding or squeezing their hand, hugging them etc.

Be Patient

Don’t expect them to follow a pattern or timeframe for grieving. There is no correct or normal way to grieve. It will differ from person to person in the way they experience it.

Whilst the more common timeframe for grief is between 18 and 24 months this can be much shorter or longer depending on the individual. So avoid pressuring or expecting them to be ready to move on if you feel they are taking too long.

Only they can make that decision and will know when the time is right. You are likely to do more harm than good by saying anything.

Don’t Judge

Grief is a complex and incredibly difficult time for anyone experiencing it. The ways in which people react during grief will differ and could involve extreme emotions, outbursts and behaviour.

Instead of judging their actions or believing what they are doing is wrong make sure you reassure them that this is common for anyone grieving. They will take comfort from feeling they are not unusual or different in the way they are behaving and acting.

And if they at any point they express anger or frustration towards you then do everything you can to avoid taking it personally.

Be Direct

Whilst grieving it can be difficult to reach out for help. There may be feelings of guilt or that just getting through the day is hard enough as it is.

Depression and exhaustion are common which make it harder to ask for the help they might need. So you should take the lead and offer your support directly.

Be specific in what you can offer or do for them rather than asking what they need. It will make it far easier for them to accept your offer if it’s a very direct and specific question as opposed to something more general.

Try something like “What can I get you from the supermarket?” or “Would you like me to come over and help with the housework?” instead of “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”

Offer Practical Help

Grief can be overwhelming and during the process it can be hard to function normally. The thought of doing everyday tasks might seem near impossible.

Some examples of the practical help you can offer:

  • Offering to cook for them. Alternatively cook at yours and bring round food to them.
  • Do chores and housework for them
  • Do the food shopping
  • Look after and pick their children up from school
  • Look after their pets
  • Help with the funeral
  • Accompanying them wherever they need to go

Offer an Activity

This may not be appropriate at first but as time goes by then a bereaved person will have lots of free time on their hands. They may want time to be left alone but they might also want friendship and distractions.

Getting out and doing more “normal” activities can help to begin moving on and alleviating some of the grief. You could offer to take them to the cinema, get a cup of coffee or just go for a walk.

However remember not to pressure or push them. If they aren’t ready yet then just leave it for the time being and try again at a later date.

Share an Experience

If you’ve also experienced a loss it can be beneficial to share your story with the bereaved. Having someone else that has been through a similar situation can be comforting.

It also helps to know that eventually the grief will pass and recovery will happen. By sharing your own experience it can help to make that seem possible.

What Not to Say

There are a few things you should always avoid saying to someone grieving. These could end up causing great offence or worsening the grief.

  • “They were a good age”
  • There is never a good time to lose a loved one, whatever their age.

  • “He/she is in a better place now”
  • You may believe this but the bereaved almost certainly won’t. They will be mourning their loss and do anything to have that person back. It’s a deeply inappropriate thing to say.

  • “It’s time to move on”
  • There is no time limit for grief and whilst you might feel they should be moving on they may need more time. Let them get through it at their own speed without any pressure from you or others.

  • “It’s all part of Gods plan”
  • This may be acceptable to someone religious (although even then it might not), but for anyone else it will be very inappropriate. They won’t feel like the death of their loved one is part of any “plan”.

Avoid Religion

Following on from that it’s usually a good idea to avoid mentioning anything religious unless you are certain of their faith. To someone who already has a strong religious background and faith then they will find strength in that. But to others it will often provoke an angry reaction and could well be seen as offensive or, at best, clumsy. Please do pray for them but

No Comparisons

Don’t compare their loss to that of a pet. Whilst you may consider them to be similar there is a good chance they will find this very offensive.

Think Long-Term

Over the longer term try to remember that whilst the grief may appear to have gone it can be triggered and return by various things. Major landmarks are often tough times for anyone who has lost a loved one, so make a note of them to offer support again.

Birthdays and anniversaries are the most common but anytime you think it might be tough for someone is worth trying to remember and making the effort to support them.

As grieving has no set time period then it can last as long as it takes. With that in mind you will want to ensure that you continue to provide support and assurance throughout the entire grieving period.

Stay in contact on a regular basis. You don’t have to make it obvious about being there for them but just stay as a constant presence so they know they have someone to turn to. This becomes even more important once the funeral and initial stage of mourning is over.

And finally remember that the grief of a loved one stays with you forever. Acceptance will probably happen, and a coming to terms with the loss over time, but the pain will always be there. Keep this in mind in however you choose to support someone.

Further General Tips

  • Sending an email, letter or text/SMS message is acceptable. If you find it hard talking face to face then this can be a good way to stay in touch and offer some support.

  • If you promise to do something then make sure you keep it. Being let down during a time of grief can be devastating.

  • Appearances can be deceiving. Just because on the surface someone looks to be coping well doesn't mean they aren't struggling beneath. Allow them to let down this guard and show their real feelings.

  • Ways to Support a Grieving Child

    A child will experience grief in a similar way to adults but may require further support and reassurance. They take their cues from the adults they are surrounded by so make sure to show that grieving is normal and encourage them to do so.

    Be as clear as you can as to what has happened and ensure they don’t feel to blame in any way. If they have questions answer them as fully as honestly as possible.

    For further advice on supporting a grieving child see the websites below:

    Kidshealth guide to supporting bereaved children

    Cruse Bereavement Care – How to help a child or young person

    Depression and Suicide

    Grief will cause feelings of depression and misery but these should pass with time. If they don’t or they are actually getting worse over time then it’s possible their grief had turned into something more serious.

    If you suspect this is the case then please see the websites below for further information on what to do:

    Depression Warning Signs

    If the bereaved mentions suicide at all then please act quickly and contact one of the following:

    In the U.S. call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
    In the UK, call 08457 90 90 90.
    Or visit IASP for a helpline in your country.