Supporting a friend who is grieving

Often people feel unsure about how to help someone who is grieving after a death or other major loss. What most people need after a loss is comfort and caring from family and friends. Listening, running errands or simply being present are a few examples of how you might support a grieving friend or family member.

When people are grieving (also known as mourning or bereavement), thoughts and emotions are often heightened. The most important thing you can do to show that you care is being present. Offering advice or suggestions about what a person should do or should be feeling is not needed. Instead, try to be comfortable being with the person you care about – lending an ear or holding a hand is a very helpful thing to do.

Acknowledge all feelings. Their grief reactions are natural and necessary. Do not pass judgment on how well they are or are not coping.

Understand and accept cultural and religious perspectives about illness and death that may be different from your own. For example, if a family has decided to not allow their children to attend the funeral because of their beliefs that children should not be exposed to death, support their decision even if this may not be what you would do.

Help the person to renew interest in past activities and hobbies, when they are ready, or to discover new areas of interest. Offer suggestions such as, “Let’s go to the museum on Saturday to see the new exhibit,” but be accepting if your offer is declined.

Be sensitive to holidays and special days. For someone grieving a death, certain days may be more difficult and can magnify the sense of loss. Anniversaries and birthdays can be especially hard. Some people find it helpful to be with family and friends, others may wish to avoid traditions and try something different. Extend an invitation to someone who might otherwise spend time alone during a holiday or special day, but be accepting if your offer is declined.

There is no right way to grieve and mourn. Be very careful not to impose your ideas, beliefs and expectations on someone else, no matter how much you think it might help. It is important to understand that the way a person might respond to a loss is unique to them.

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