Talking to a bereaved person | Cruse Bereavement Care

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One of the most helpful things you can do for someone who is bereaved is to be available to listen and talk to them.

In the early days after someone dies, it is common for people to want to go over and over what has happened. As time passes they may like to talk about the person who died, and share memories. This can particularly be the case after some time has passed and many people around them stop talking about the person who died. 

Starting conversations

Sometimes you might really want to help but just feel unsure about how to start. 

It is normal to want to start a conversation with ‘How are you?’ but this can be an impossible question to answer for a bereaved person. Better suggestions are ‘How are you today?’ or ‘How have you been this week?’. We have some advice about what to say when someone is first bereaved in this article. Here are some things to consider if you want to start a conversation after more time has passed:

  • I’ll be thinking about you and X next week on your anniversary/their birthday/Mother’s Day/etc. 
  • I was thinking yesterday about that time when we all …
  • I found these photos of X, did I ever share them with you?
  • I read something in the paper that made me think of X …

Don’t be afraid to bring up their name or the fact they are not here anymore. Whist it may be more comfortable for you it can be heart-breaking for the bereaved person when people stop mentioning someone who died. 

Being a good listener

When you are listening to someone who is grieving, your role is not to fix their problem. You both know you cannot bring the person they have lost back. But just being with someone through their experience can be an enormous help.

It is important to give them time to speak and not to rush to offer solutions or share your own experiences. Samaritans offer some tips on how to be an active listener.

What to avoid saying

It’s more important that you say something than worry too much about offending someone. However there are some things to avoid saying if possible.

‘I know how you feel’ – every bereavement is different and every relationship is different. Don’t compare bereavement to non-death losses such as divorce, or to the death of a pet. These are also very painful losses but now is the time to listen rather than share.

‘It must be a relief in a way’ – even if the person was suffering, or your bereaved friend or relative was in a difficult and stressful caring role, the loss of someone can be both a shock and incredibly painful. Relief may be part of what they feel but you can’t make any assumptions.

‘In time you’ll meet someone else’ – when someone has lost a partner talking about future relationships might make them feel you are devaluing the person who has died, or the pain they are in. If and when to consider a new relationship is a very personal decision.

‘At least you still have …’ – no other person can replace someone who has died and it’s not fair to expect them to. Your friend or relative needs time to mourn and focus on the person they have lost, whether or not they have other similar relationships in their life. 

‘They would want you to be happy’ – a bereaved person may not be able to help how they feel, and knowing their loved one would not want them to fall apart might just end up making them feel guilty.

‘Time is a great healer’ – most people do learn to resume living after bereavement, and enjoy life while remembering those they have lost. But the pain of losing someone close will always be there. Feeling better can’t be forced or anticipated and someone in the depths of grief might not be able to imagine feeling better.

How Cruse can help

  • 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.