Grief is a universal human emotion. It brings a profound, deep sense of loss stitched together with memories of what once was, anniversary dates, and a loss of direction. Grief can be felt in many ways, all of which are complex, challenging, and heavy. Whether it’s grief because of a death or grief because of something else, it’s a thick emotion that requires strength to carry. Having a supportive friend can make a big difference in moments like these. A supportive friend who knows how to help a grieving person and can offer support, solace, connection, and strength is immeasurable during a dark time like this. Today, we’re sharing fifteen tips for supporting grieving friends and being there when they need you. Everyone is different; showing up for a friend is a unique and individualized experience. Use these tips to cultivate a way to show up for your grieving friend in a way that speaks to you and them.
1. Check in on them.
Checking in on a grieving friend is an important and compassionate way to offer support. Grief can be a very lonely experience, and the simple act of reaching out and asking how they are can make a world of difference. Whether through a phone call, text message, or an in-person visit, letting your friend know that you are thinking of them and available to listen can offer them a lifeline to the outside world. It shows that their pain matters, and they don’t have to navigate it alone. It shows that you’re aware of their pain and willing to listen and help them carry their pain. Finally, it helps them see that they are not alone. With grief being such a lonely experience, knowing you have a supportive friend can make a significant difference. Remember that checking in should be an ongoing effort, as grief doesn’t follow a fixed timeline, and your continued presence and support can offer comfort even months or years after their loss.
2. Take the time to learn and understand the grieving process.
Taking the time to understand the grieving process is a powerful way to support a grieving friend. Grief is a complex and deeply personal journey, and no two individuals will experience it in exactly the same way. Educating yourself about the various stages of grief, like denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, can provide insight into what your friend might be going through. It’s crucial to recognize that grief is not a linear path; people may move back and forth between stages, and their emotions can be unpredictable. By understanding this, you can offer patience, empathy, and the space your friend needs to navigate their grief at their own pace. Your willingness to learn about and respect their unique process can provide comfort and validation during this challenging time. It shows the grieving friend that you’re willing to learn so you can support them in the best way possible. In addition, it can be very validating for them to see that you will put that effort in to be a strong support person for them.
3. Be a good listener.
Good listening skills is one of the most powerful ways to support a grieving friend. Grief often comes with many emotions, memories, and stories; your friend may need a safe space to express them. By actively listening without judgment or interruption, you offer an environment where they feel safe and secure to share their thoughts, fears, and cherished memories. Listening also allows you to understand their needs better, whether it’s a shoulder to cry on, someone to reminisce with, or simply the comfort of knowing they’re not alone in their pain. Avoiding the urge to offer solutions or minimize their feelings and instead providing a compassionate and non-judgmental presence can make a profound difference in their grieving process, helping them feel heard and supported during their journey through loss.
4. Let them cry.
Crying can be very healing and helpful during the grieving process. It acts as a release of pent-up emotions. When you’re supporting a grieving friend, offer them a space where they feel safe expressing their feelings. It’s vital that they know you’re not judging them in any way and that you’re a safe shoulder to lean on. It can be both comforting and validating for a grieving person to know that they can fully express their emotions to you and that you can receive them without judgment.
5. Offer to help in practical ways.
Offering to help your grieving friend in practical ways can be a very meaningful, tangible, and compassionate way to support them. Grief is a physically and mentally draining emotion, making daily tasks like laundry, cleaning, groceries, etc., very challenging and overwhelming. Offering a helping hand with these tasks can alleviate some of the burden that grief brings.
Practical ways to help a grieving friend:
● Running errands.
● Doing grocery shopping.
● Preparing and cooking meals.
● Doing laundry.
● Doing household cleaning.
● Taking care of affected children.
6. Let them talk about their grief.
Allowing grieving friends to discuss their feelings openly can be cathartic, healing, and therapeutic. Offering them a space to share their emotions and memories without judgment, criticism, or unsolicited advice is an integral part of support. It’s vital to understand that you can’t “fix” your friend’s pain, but you can be an ear and let them talk as much as they want about what they’re experiencing. Your willingness to listen is validating, comforting, and relieving as it tells them their pain matters and their emotions are heard and important.
7. Be empathetic.
Empathy is an important cornerstone in supporting a grieving friend. It offers a meaningful way to connect, but it also means that your grieving friend isn’t experiencing the grief alone. Empathy is putting yourself in your grieving friend’s shoes and trying to feel the weight of their feelings.
Tips to show empathy:
● Be an active listener.
● Be present.
● Validate your grieving friend’s feelings.
● Encourage them to share their feelings.
● Avoid any judgment.
● Offer physical comfort like a hug if they want.
● Be respectful of their wanting space.
● Be patient.
8. Keep showing up and offering support.
Grief doesn’t have a timetable or schedule. It’s an ebb and flow of ups and downs, moving through each stage, sometimes quietly and sometimes not. It’s important to show your grieving friend that you will consistently keep showing up and supporting them. Knowing that you’re present and available consistently can be comforting to them. Being an unwavering support can be healing and comforting for the grieving friend.
9. Avoid trying to make things better.
When supporting a grieving friend, avoiding the well-intentioned but counterproductive urge to try to make things better is essential. Grief is a deeply personal and complex emotional process that cannot be fixed or rushed. Offering solutions or trying to minimize their pain can inadvertently invalidate their feelings and make them feel unheard. Instead, focus on being present, listening actively, and empathizing with their emotions. Let them guide the conversation and the pace of their healing. Grief is not a problem to be solved; it’s a journey to be walked alongside them with patience and understanding. Your willingness to witness their pain and offer a compassionate presence is often the most meaningful support you can provide during this challenging time.
10. Understand that grief lasts as long as it lasts.
Understanding that grief lasts as long as it lasts is essential when supporting a grieving friend. Grief isn’t bound by a fixed timeline or a neatly defined process. It’s a profoundly individual experience influenced by the nature of the loss, the person’s coping mechanisms, and their unique emotional journey. Some may begin to find a sense of closure and acceptance relatively quickly, while others may grapple with their grief for an extended period, sometimes even years. It’s crucial to recognize that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and every person’s path is valid. Pushing a friend to move on or suggesting they should be “over it” by a certain point can be profoundly hurtful and invalidating. Instead, be patient, offer unwavering support, and let them navigate their grief at their own pace. Grief’s duration varies, but your steadfast presence can provide the comfort and reassurance that they need to heal in their time, on their terms.
11. Reach out regularly.
Regularly reaching out to support a grieving friend is paramount in their journey through grief. Grief can be an isolating experience; as time passes, the initial outpouring of support often diminishes. However, the pain of loss remains, and even months or years later, your friend may still grapple with their emotions. By consistently checking in and offering your presence and care, you provide them with a lifeline to companionship and understanding. It communicates that their grief matters and that they are not alone in their ongoing struggle. A set timetable does not bind the grieving process, and your continued support can help them navigate the ups and downs of their complicated emotions. Whether through a heartfelt message, a phone call, or a visit, your regular outreach shows that you are committed to standing by their side throughout their healing journey, which can be a great source of solace and reassurance.
12. Provide resources when appropriate.
Providing a grieving friend with resources when appropriate can be a thoughtful and helpful way to support them. Grief often comes with many emotions and challenges that can be difficult to navigate alone. Depending on their specific needs and circumstances, resources like grief support groups, therapy, books, or online forums can offer additional avenues for healing and coping. These resources can provide guidance, validation, and a sense of community for your friend, helping them feel less alone in their journey. Importantly, when offering these resources, do so in a non-pushy and understanding manner, respecting their autonomy and readiness to seek help. By offering a lifeline to valuable information and support networks, you empower your grieving friend to explore different avenues for healing and growth as they work through their grief.
13. Encourage self-care.
Encouraging self-care for a grieving friend is vital to supporting their emotional well-being during a difficult time. Grief can be physically and emotionally exhausting, often causing individuals to neglect their own needs. Here’s how you can gently guide your friend toward self-care:
Normalize Self-Care: Begin by normalizing the concept of self-care. Explain that taking care of oneself is not selfish but a necessary part of coping with grief.
Listen Actively: Listen to your friend’s needs and concerns. Ask them how they’re feeling and what might help them feel better.
Offer Specific Suggestions: Rather than making vague suggestions, offer specific self-care ideas tailored to their preferences. For instance, suggest a soothing bath, a walk in nature, or journaling to express their emotions.
Respect Their Choices: Respect their autonomy in choosing self-care activities. What works for one person may not work for another, so let them decide what feels right for them.
Gently Remind: Grief can make people forget to care for themselves. Kindly remind your friends to eat well, get enough sleep, and participate in activities that make them happy.
Share Self-Care Techniques: If you have self-care practices that have helped you during difficult times, share them with your friend. Personal anecdotes can inspire.
Offer Assistance: Self-care may include practical tasks. Offer to help with chores, grocery shopping, or meal preparation to reduce their stress.
Reassure Them: Assure your friend that it’s okay to take breaks and step away from the pain of grief when they need to. Emotions can be overwhelming, and it’s okay to seek moments of respite.
Provide Resources: Offer resources such as self-help books, meditation apps, or information on local support groups if they express interest.
Check-In Regularly: Continue to check in and ask how their self-care routines are going. Your ongoing support and interest can motivate them to prioritize their well-being.
Respect Their Pace: Understand that self-care is a gradual process. Your friend may not immediately embrace it, and that’s okay. Encourage them to take small steps when they’re ready.
Be Patient: Grief can be a rollercoaster of emotions. Be patient if your friend struggles with self-care or has moments of regression.
Encouraging self-care in your grieving friend helps them navigate the challenging path of grief with more resilience and self-compassion. By being supportive and offering gentle guidance, you empower them to prioritize their well-being amidst the turbulent emotions of loss.
14. Respect their need for space.
Respecting a grieving friend’s need for space is crucial to providing meaningful support during their journey through grief. Grief is an intensely personal experience, and individuals may have moments when they need solitude to process their emotions, memories, and thoughts. Giving them the required space shows understanding and respect for their unique grieving process. It allows them to retreat when overwhelmed, collect their thoughts, and find solace in their own time. This space can be a sanctuary where they can confront their feelings, remember their loved ones, and ultimately heal. It’s essential to recognize that offering space doesn’t mean withdrawing your support entirely but instead providing a healthy balance between being present when they need you and giving them room to breathe when necessary. It’s a delicate balance that demonstrates your sensitivity to their needs and your commitment to being there for them in a way that respects their individuality and grieving process.
15. Suggest professional help.
Suggesting professional help to support a grieving loved one can be an act of deep care and concern. Grief can be an overwhelming and complex emotional journey; sometimes, individuals may find it challenging to navigate it independently. Suggesting a therapist, counselor, or grief support group can provide them with a safe and structured space to process their feelings, learn coping strategies, and receive expert guidance. It’s essential to emphasize that seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness but a brave step toward healing and understanding their grief better. While friends and family offer invaluable emotional support, trained professionals can provide specialized tools and techniques to assist your loved one in their grief journey. Suggesting professional help conveys your commitment to their well-being and can be a crucial step in their path toward recovery and resilience.
What NOT to say to a grieving friend.
While it’s important to know how to support a grieving friend and show up as best as possible, it’s also important to know what not to say. Supporting a grieving friend is a delicate and compassionate task, and knowing what not to say is just as important as knowing what to say. Avoiding specific phrases or comments can prevent unintentional harm and ensure your friend feels heard and supported during this challenging time.
“I know how you feel.”: Even if you’ve experienced grief yourself, everyone’s grief is unique. Claiming to know their exact feelings may come across as minimizing or dismissive of their pain.
“It’s time to move on.”: Grief doesn’t follow a timeline, and pushing your friend to “move on” can make them feel guilty or unsupported in their grieving process.
“They’re in a better place.”: While meant to provide comfort, this phrase can invalidate your friend’s grief and make them feel that their pain is not acknowledged.
“Everything happens for a reason.”: This comment may sound like you’re trying to find a silver lining, but it can be perceived as dismissive or even callous in the face of their loss.
“You should be grateful for what you still have.”: Encouraging gratitude is positive, but allowing your friend to process their grief without feeling guilty for their emotions is essential.
“They wouldn’t want you to be sad.”: Imposing expectations on how your friend should feel can be harmful. Grief is a natural human experience of loss, and it’s essential to let them experience it in their own way.
“I know someone who had it worse.”: Comparing their grief to someone else’s suffering minimizes their pain. Grief is personal, and all emotions are valid.
“You’ll get over it.”: Suggesting that their grief will completely disappear may feel dismissive. Instead, emphasize that they will learn to cope and heal in their time.
“Let me know if you need anything.”: While well-intentioned, this vague offer can burden your grieving friend with the burden of reaching out for help. It’s better to offer specific assistance or be proactive in your support.
“This is part of God’s plan.”: Avoid making religious or philosophical statements about their loss, as they may have different beliefs and interpretations.
Remember that when supporting a grieving friend, your presence, empathy, and willingness to listen are often more valuable than finding the “perfect” words. It’s essential to be sensitive and flexible, adapting your approach based on their individual needs and emotions.
In conclusion, supporting a grieving friend is an act of compassion, empathy, and love. Grief is a profoundly personal journey; no one-size-fits-all approach can capture the depth of emotions accompanying it. However, by being there, actively listening, offering practical help, and respecting their unique process, you can provide invaluable comfort during one of life’s most challenging times. Remember that the path of grief is often winding and unpredictable, and your unwavering support can light the way through the darkness. While you may not have all the answers or know precisely how to alleviate their pain, your presence and understanding speak volumes. Amid their sorrow, your friendship and support are powerful sources of healing and hope. So, as you embark on this journey of support, know that your efforts make a world of difference, offering solace and strength to your grieving friend as they navigate the complex terrain of loss.