Eight ways you can help someone who is grieving
You’ve sent the flowers and the sympathy card.
When someone we care about is grieving, we can often be at a loss for what to say or do. We simply haven’t been taught how to deal with grief — our own or others’.
To address this, we are launching a new eight-week seminar in September named GriefRelief. We invite you – and anyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one – to attend.
Meanwhile, here are some of my best tips for helping someone in grief. Whether your friend or family member has lost a spouse, parent, sibling, child, close friend, or pet, you can be an essential part of their healing and ensure that your relationship with them grows even stronger.
People tell me that the most helpful thing anyone did for them after their loved one died was to simply be there with them. So, hang out with them. If they feel like talking, great; if not, be willing to sit with them in silence. And remember, grief usually lasts much longer than most people expect, so be there with them for the long haul.
Anything you can say or do that’s compassionate and genuine is going to make a huge difference. Rather than reciting platitudes, acknowledge their reality by saying something like, “I know this hurts. I love you. I’m here for you.”
Listening is probably the most underappreciated gift, yet one of the most valuable. Grievers need to talk about their loss and they need to feel heard. So, let them talk things out — it helps them organize their thoughts and feelings and find their own answers. Additionally, people who are grieving may need to tell the story of how their loved one died over and over again, so be patient!
Although grief is a universal human experience, it will be a unique journey for each person. So, affirm your friend’s or family member’s individual way of grieving. Rather than trying to “fix” them or talk them out of their feelings, let them know that it's okay to feel the way they do — to be angry, to feel vulnerable, to cry or not to cry, even to laugh and find moments of fun.
Gently encourage them to talk about their loss whenever they feel like it. This will lessen their sense of emotional isolation and help them integrate their loss in a healthy way. And don’t be afraid to bring up their loss; ask questions like, “What do you miss most about _______?” Acknowledge the person who died. Say their name, and talk about them. This is actually very comforting to the bereaved.
The journey through grief can be a long, messy haul — a rollercoaster of emotions that change day to day or even minute to minute. Also, grief tends to make people very self-focused, so if your attempts to reach out seem to be ignored, try not to take it personally. Eventually, your friend or family member will come around and resume their closeness with you. So, hang in. Keep reaching out. Just don’t expect a lot back.
Anniversaries, holidays, birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, weddings and graduations are likely to reawaken their grief for years to come. Mark your calendar as a reminder to reach out to them on these days. Offer to join them in doing something special that day, such as taking flowers to the grave, looking at photos, lighting a candle, etc.
Above all, love them through this. Be willing to stand beside the gaping hole that has opened up in their life, without flinching or turning away. Be there for them. Show them you care, unconditionally. Love, after all, is what matters.
And lastly, I hope you will encourage your grieving friend or family member to attend our GriefRelief Seminar starting September 19. Come with them if you like!
To learn more and to register, contact Rev. Camille May at: 214-523-2443 or
Dr. Jana Rentzel is a Grief Specialist and Spiritual Director in private practice; a Congregational Care Minister, support group leader, and teacher at HPUMC; and the creator and presenter of the upcoming GriefRelief seminar.