How You Can Best Support Someone in Grief

October 11, 2019

Life brings loss. Loss can include divorce, death, the relocation of a close friend, or the end of a job or relationship. As grieving can be tough and take a great toll on a person, it’s important to have the support of friends and family. This is especially true because research has linked experiencing grief and loss with developing clinical depression.

To help you provide the best support to another’s grieving process, we’ve gathered ways you can help lessen the negative effects and feelings they may be experiencing.

Ways you can help:

  • Be an empathetic listener, and ask about their feelings.
  • Share your feelings about the loss, but be careful not to sound insensitive to their feelings, or turn the conversation in such a way that they are comforting you.
  • Be available.
  • Provide practical support (e.g., offering to run errands, prepare meals).
  • Be patient—the grieving process takes time—lots more time than we might think.
  • Be aware of signs that reflect not-so-positive coping skills, such as being hard on themselves, drug or alcohol abuse, undereating or overeating, isolating themselves, their feelings, or their thoughts.
  • Be aware of depression.
  • Provide the person with supportive resources if needed.

Those in grief can experience a wide array of negative emotions and feelings. For example, someone grieving may experience the following challenges:

  • extreme fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • lost interest in activities
  • drastic change in weight
  • feeling worthless or guilty
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • activity speeds up or slows down
  • thinking life isn’t worth living anymore
  • repeated thoughts about death or suicide

If you know someone grieving a loss, and they exhibit five or more of these symptoms—and any thoughts of suicide—please urge them to get professional help.

Some additional advice for how you can encourage people in healthy expressions of grief includes encouraging them to:

  • Be gentle with themselves.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Talk with caring family and friends.
  • Explore spiritual strategies (memorial service, prayer).
  • Maintain a regular schedule, but take it easy and avoid unrealistic goals.
  • Postpone major life decisions.
  • Pay attention to triggers (holidays, anniversary of their death, death of someone else, etc.).
  • Honor those who have passed away (e.g., plant a tree, donate money to their favorite cause, create a memory book about the individual, or write them a letter).
  • Do not rush the process; there is no right or wrong time frame for grieving.
  • Join a bereavement support group.
  • Get individual counseling if grief is overwhelming or persistent.
  • See a doctor if unusual symptoms occur.
  • Stay physically and socially active.
  • Express their feelings.
Grief is a process that takes time. Don’t try to rush it.

Although extending your support may be uncomfortable for you at times, it will most likely be deeply appreciated by your friends and family.

If you think someone you know may need professional help, or aren’t sure where to begin helping them, Iona’s Information & Referral Helpline is a great place to start – call (202) 895-9448 and ask for the Helpline.