Supporting a Grieving Person

  • The best thing you can do for a grieving friend or family member is to show that you care by being present and listening.
  • Take into account a loved one’s culture and family traditions when trying to understand the loss from his or her perspective.
  • Your loved one may need your support for several months or even years. Check in periodically by writing a note, calling, stopping by to visit, or even bringing flowers.

Next Step

All hospices provide grief support to the community, whether or not the deceased received hospice care.

Find Support

When people are grieving, their thoughts and emotions are often heightened or unusual. People who care about the bereaved are often unsure about what to say or do to help. The most important thing to do is to show that you care by being present and by listening. Offering advice or suggestions is not needed; try to become comfortable with quietly supporting a person with your presence.

All cultures have developed expectations and norms about coping with death. It’s important to try to understand someone else’s loss in the context of that person’s cultural and family traditions. There’s 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. The following are some suggestions of ways you can support a grieving friend or family member.

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

Accept different perspectives. Keep in mind that your grieving friend’s cultural and religious perspectives on illness and death may be different than your own. For example, if a family has decided to not let children attend the funeral because of a belief that children shouldn’t be exposed to death, support their decision even if it’s not what you would do.

Acknowledge change. Life won’t feel the same after a loss, and the person may not be able to quickly get back to normal. Help the person to renew interest in past activities and hobbies, when he or she is 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.

Stick around. Your friend or family member may need your support and presence in the weeks and months to come, after most others will have withdrawn.

Be specific when offering help. Offer assistance with chores such as childcare or meals. For example, suggest, “I’ll bring dinner on Thursday; how many people will be there?” Performing repeatable tasks such as picking up the kids from school or refilling prescriptions can also be a big help.

Be aware of 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, and recognize they may not accept your offer.

Check in. Periodic check-ins can be helpful throughout the first two years after the death. Stay in touch by writing a note, calling, stopping by to visit, or perhaps bringing flowers.

Next Step: All hospices provide grief support to the community, whether or not the deceased received hospice care.

Content shown was developed through a collaboration between AGIS and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.