If you have a friend or relative who has been bereaved it can be difficult to know how to support them. It’s normal to feel awkward, or worried that you will make things worse.
Don’t let your worries and fears stop you from being there for them at a time when they need you more than ever. There are some simple things you can do to help and support them.
How to Support a Bereaved Person
1. Talk and listen
One of the most helpful things you can do for someone who is bereaved is to listen to them.
It can be a difficult conversation to start, but it is really important to get in touch with your friend or relative and let them know you are thinking about them. You need to know that you can’t ‘fix’ their grief. But you can be a support to them through their grief, and listening is one of the kindest things you can do.
In the early days after someone dies, it is common for people to want to go over and over what has happened. As time goes on they may like to talk about the person who died, and share memories.
2. Offer practical help
Practical help can be invaluable when you are grieving. Bereaved people often find it difficult to make decisions. If you say ‘Let me know if I can do anything’ this requires the person to reach out for help themselves, which can be overwhelming. Instead try to make specific suggestions.
‘How about I pick up the children from school on Thursday?" is often better than...
"Let me know if you'd like me to look after the children sometime."
3. Find out if they need more support
If the person who died provided help or care for your friend or relative, they may now require extra help in the house. It might help to look up what support is available and leave information with them. Don’t pressure them as there may be times when they feel overwhelmed with all that needs doing, and need to take things slowly.
4. Consider their individual situation
Grief is universal, but different cultures have different traditions and nuances, so try to find out what your friend or family member needs. There may be things important to the person that you do not feel are the top priority. Bear with them and try to find out what they need.
Be mindful of factors that might affect their experiences such as health, disability, gender and sexuality. If they had a difficult relationship with the person who has died, this could also complicate the way they are processing the bereavement.
5. Understand that grief doesn’t ever go away
Those who are really valuable to bereaved friends and relatives know that they are in it for the long haul.
Don’t expect the person to ever to get over the death of someone close – in time the pain becomes less overwhelming but there are still going to be times which are difficult years or decades later.
6. Remember important dates
Anniversaries, birthdays and holidays can be particularly painful for many people, and remembering and offering support at these times can be very comforting.
7. Be prepared to be in the wrong
However hard you try to be a good friend, there are times when you might say the ‘wrong’ thing, or upset someone. Many times you probably didn’t say anything wrong, but it was just not what they wanted to hear. It’s their grief that upsets them not you.
8. Be understanding of their needs
The needs of someone grieving will change from day to day, and it’s just not possible to always get it right. Bereaved people may also be less able to control their irritation and temper when something does go wrong.
If you are very close you may find you are a safe person for them to be angry with. This can be difficult to cope with and needs to be handled sensitively. Sometimes they might just want to be left alone for a while. It's important to respect their need for space, but do continue to check in in case their needs change.
9. Suggest useful services
There is not set timeline for grief, and we now know there are no set stages or phases of grief. However if after some months someone remains unable to cope with every day life, or find any pleasure in things they might have once enjoyed, they may need extra help. Encourage them to call the Cruse Helpline, use our chat service or search for their local branch.
It is common for people to feel that they don’t want to go on living after someone very precious to them dies. Evidence show that asking someone about suicidal feelings is likely to protect them. You can read more about supporting someone who might feel suicidal on the Samaritans website.