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Grief Support 5 Simple Ways to Help Someone Who's Grieving By Paula Spencer Scott, senio

Grief Support 

5 Simple Ways to Help Someone Who's Grieving

By Paula Spencer Scott, senior editor -

Feeling helpless about how to help a friend or family member who's mourning a loss? Small acts speak volumes. Here's how to help someone who's grieving, in simple, thoughtful ways:

  1. Listen.

    There's no need to rush in with words of comfort, especially if they don't come naturally.

    Better: Simply make a space, with your companionable silence, for the bereaved to express herself if she chooses.


    1. Don't hurry an emotional moment.

      A common impulse when someone gets choked up with grief is to change the subject and try to shift to safer emotional ground.

      Better: See the moment through. Pause. Offer a hug. Share your own comment about the person who died, if it feels appropriate.

    2. Talk about the person who died.

      Don't avoid mentioning the person who died; he or she is still very much in the minds of grieving family and friends.

      Better: Reminisce or mention how the person inspired you or made you happy. When they naturally come to mind, don't be afraid to say things like, "Wouldn't Susan have loved these flowers?" or, "I can just hear Bill saying, 'It's a great day for golf!'"

    3. Stick to honesty over platitudes.

      There's no "right" thing to say to a survivor, but there are plenty of wrong things, like these10 things never to say to someone who's grieving.

      Better: If you're tongue-tied, acknowledge it. Try, "I don't know what to say. Please know I'm thinking about you." Or, "I can't imagine what each day is like for you now. I'm here for you."

    4. Don't ask how you can help; just do.

      Asking even simple questions ("Do you want me to pick up milk for you?" "What do you like to eat?") puts an added burden on the bereaved. Especially soon after a death, someone who's mourning may be physically and emotionally incapable of such decision making.

      Better: Simply step in when you see a need: Furnish a meal (ready to eat or freeze, in disposable containers that don't need to be returned), organize regular meal delivery, pick up milk or eggs or fresh bread when you're at the store and leave them in a cooler on the porch, mow the lawn, take care of the car pool, stop by to walk and feed the dog. Think of essential tasks that can be handled unobtrusively.




      Offer Condolences Correctly

      10 Things Never to Say to a Grieving Person

      By Paula Spencer Scott, senior editor

      It can be hard to know what to say to grieving friends or family members after the loss of someone close. One risk is that you unwittingly sound like what grief expert Robert Neimeyer of the University of Memphis calls the "grief police" -- well-intentioned but misguided helpers who suggest to the bereaved person that there's a "right" way to grieve. (There isn't.)

      If you want to be consoling and compassionate when offering condolence, avoid phrases like the following:

      1. "Stop crying; you're only making it worse." Expressing emotions, even strongly if so inclined, is a natural, normal, and healthy reaction to death.


      2. "You should let your emotions out or you'll feel worse later." It's also normal for some people to not cry; not showing outward emotions doesn't mean the person is grieving less or will have some kind of "delayed reaction."


      3. "At least he's not suffering any more." This offers little condolence. Whatever the circumstances of the death, the bereaved person is still suffering.


      4."You must be strong." (Or "God never gives us more than we can handle.") Such statements imply that it's wrong to feel bereft, which is a perfectly natural response.


      5."God must have wanted her." No mortal can purport to know God's purpose. People who don't believe in God might also bristle at your presumption in attaching a religious significance to the loss.


      6."Don't dwell on it." It's normal and natural -- as well as helpful -- to talk about the person who died.


      7. "I know exactly how you feel." In fact, you can't. Even if you've experienced a similar loss, you're not the bereaved person, and you didn't have the same relationship to the person who died.


      8. "At least he was old enough to live a full life." How old would old "enough" be?


      9. "You're lucky. At least [you have money, you're young and attractive, he didn't commit suicide, etc.]." Loss is always horrible. Comparing misfortunes to others' or to alternate scenarios won't make the person feel better.


      10."It's been [six months, one year, etc.]; it's time to move on." People never stop grieving for a lost loved one. Affixing a deadline to mourning is insensitive and does little to help people learn to live through their loss.

Creation date: Jun 11, 2013 4:01pm     Last modified date: Jun 11, 2013 4:09pm   Last visit date: Nov 25, 2022 10:15pm
1 / 1000 comments
Jun 16, 2013  ( 1 comment )  
Kathy Carr (kathy)

Good advice, Julie.  I can't believe I am almost as old as when my mom died.

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