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.
Talk and listen
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.
Offer practical help
Practical help can be invaluable when someone is coping with all the things that need to be done after someone dies.
Bereaved people often find it difficult to make decisions. If you say ‘Let me know if I can do anything’ this means they will need to think about what needs doing and get in touch to ask for it, which for many might be too much to manage. It is better to make specific suggestions as to what you might do.
That could be anything from offering help at the funeral or taking meals round. There is a long list of people and companies who need to be called, and you could offer to help make the list or take on some of the calls.
There are also some smaller practical things you can do and again specific suggestions can be best, eg ‘How about I pick up the children from school on Thursday and give them tea?’.
If the person who died lived with your friend or relative, or was someone who provided help or care for them, they may need long term help. 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.
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.
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.
Anniversaries, birthdays and holidays can be particularly painful for many people, and remembering and offering support at these times can be very comforting.
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.
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 vent their anger and upset on. This can be difficult to cope with and needs to be handled sensitively. Sometimes someone might just want to be left alone for a while, but do check in on them.
When extra help might be needed
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. You could pass on details of Cruse, or suggest they contact their GP.
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.
How Cruse can help
- Read our Do's and Don'ts for helpling a bereaved person
- You can suggest someone calls our helpline, or you can call yourself. Our National Freephone Helpline offers emotional help and signposting – call 0808 808 1677. Opening hours.
- You can like our facebook page, which has lots of tips on coping with bereavement.
- Our Local Services can also offer support over the phone at the present time.