Action Tips: Help a Grieving Friend

grieving friend

It can be tough to know what to say or do when your friend has lost a loved one. It’s natural to feel awkward, helpless or unsure. But there are things you can do and say to help.

Let her/him talk.

Knowing how to listen is important and letting your friend know they can talk about the loss. Ask sensitive questions that invite your friend to express their feelings: “Do you feel like talking?”

Let her/him be silent.

If your friend doesn’t feel like talking, don’t press them. All he/she may need is someone there, a squeeze of the hand or a reassuring hug.

Acknowledge her/his feelings.

Let your friend know that it’s okay to cry, be angry or break down. They should be allowed to express her/his feelings without fear of criticism or judgment. And don’t take it personal if they lash out at you.

Don’t offer false reassurances.

You may want to say “everything is going to work out fine” but you don’t know that and you risk trivializing your friend’s fears and worries. When you don’t know what to say, be honest and express your concern. That’s enough.

Help her/him say goodbye.

Your friend may come up with a symbolic way to say goodbye. If they have trouble thinking of something, recommend a few: write a letter and tuck it away in a special place or release it with a balloon, write a poem, paint a portrait, or do something his/her loved ones enjoyed doing like cooking or hiking. Whatever they decide, support her/him.

Respect his/her process.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and everyone mourns differently so avoid telling your friend what she/he “should” or “shouldn’t” be feeling or doing.

Offer to help.

Your friend may feel too guilty to ask for help or she/he may not want to be a burden. But someone in mourning may not have the energy or motivation to call when she/he needs something, so take the initiative and ask. Offer to run errands, stay in her/his home to receive guests, take care of housework like cleaning or laundry, drive her/his wherever she/he needs to go, look after her/him pet or just sit around and play a game with her/him.

Be extra sensitive on special days.

Holidays, birthdays and other times may be particularly hard for your grieving friend. Let her/him know you’re there if she/he needs you.

Provide ongoing support.

Grief lasts longer than most people expect so stay in touch. Check in periodically by visiting or sending letters or cards.

Cut her/him some slack.

Now is not the time to be a stickler for details. Your friend is probably struggling with keeping everything together so if she/he seems moody or flakey, don’t take it personal.

Watch for warning signs.

While it’s natural that for your friend to appear depressed and disconnected, the symptoms should begin to fade over time. If they don’t or get worse, this may be a sign of clinical depression so you may want to intervene and seek professional help. Some warning signs to look for are: extreme focus on death, alcohol or drug abuse, excessive bitterness, anger or guilt, and talking about dying or suicide.