Someone you know is grieving. Perhaps it is a friend, a colleague, a family member, a spouse. Offering support to someone who has had a loss can be very challenging. It may be difficult to find the right words to say, and that can lead to some awkward conversations. This blogpost offers some ideas on how to support others who are grieving.

We’ll start with the “dos”:

Do

Do listen: It is natural to be unsure what to say to someone who is grieving, and much of the time, there is nothing that needs to be said. Offering a listening ear to a grieving person may be one of the best gifts you can give.

Do convey acceptance: Allow your grieving friend to express any emotion he or she may be feeling. Because each person experiences grief in a unique way, it may be difficult for you to understand someone else’s grief reactions. Even if you may not understand, conveying acceptance can help your grieving friend feel safe and supported.

Do be patient: Most people are surprised at how long it takes to work through their grief. Your grieving friend may be feeling frustrated with how much time it is taking. Giving a grieving person permission to take as much time as is needed can be very relieving.

Do be there: Many grieving people report that friends who offered support immediately after a death are less supportive after some time has passed. Remember that a grieving person’s needs may change as time passes, and try to make yourself available to help navigate those changing needs.

And now for the “don’ts”:

Don’t

Don’t change the subject: You may find yourself hesitant to talk about the death. It can be difficult to know what to say. Changing the subject away from the death may feel safe to you, but talking about the death may be exactly what your friend needs. Instead of changing the subject, follow your grieving friend’s lead and talk about whatever is on his or her mind.

Don’t judge: How someone else grieves may not be how you have experienced grief, or how you think grief should be. Resist the urge to advise people about how they should grieve. Grief reactions are varied and unique, but usually natural. If you have concerns about someone’s well-being or safety, or are uncertain if a reaction is normal, share your concerns in a loving way. You can also talk to a grief counselor yourself for guidance.

Don’t avoid humor or fun: Humor and fun are human needs. They can be very therapeutic to a grieving person, can provide a much needed break from other more difficult grief reactions, and can promote physical health.

Don’t expect the person to remain the same: The death of someone close will change a person for life. It is unrealistic to expect a person to be the same after a significant loss. Some changes will be temporary, others may be permanent. Accept these changes as they come, and continue to offer support.

Don’t push the person into new activities: A grieving person has the right to decide when to engage in new or renewed activities and how to occupy their time. Attempts to push someone into something they are not ready for may be upsetting or overwhelming for the person, and may create tension in your relationship. Trust that your grieving friend is capable of taking those steps when the time comes, and be ready to offer support along the way.

Supporting someone in grief can be challenging. Remember that grief is a journey, and you are a companion for parts of that journey. Pay attention to these dos and don’ts, but more importantly, pay attention to the person who is grieving. Continue to offer love and support as they navigate this journey.

by Laura B., grief counselor