Man upset

Helping those who grieve

  1. let them choose how they want to express it. If they want to talk and talk and talk; fine. If they don’t want to; or need to try and move on, then that’s fine too. They have no control over losing their loved one; so let them handle this the way they need.
  2. don’t pretend it hasn’t happened. You don’t have to have perfect words; or even good ones. But acknowledge their loss and their pain. Speak to them if you can; and if not, write. Don’t feel like you need to explain death or defend God or come up with answers. Just tell them you care.
  3. recognise that death changes relationships: as a family or friend, you will need to adapt the way you do some things. And the goal is not for things to be like they were; they can’t. But you can rebuild.
  4. know that the grief might ease over time, but it won’t pass. Be there long-term; after the funeral, after people have returned to work. Remember anniversaries; keep visiting, phoning, texting, dropping off meals, staying over if they lost someone they live with.
  5. remember that grief is individual. Just because your partner or friend handles it in a different way to you, doesn’t mean they don’t feel it. Make allowances for them if they seem offhand and can’t relate well to you – they’re in great pain and trying to cope.
  6. plan ahead for grief ‘triggers’ like anniversaries, holidays and milestones. If you’re sharing a holiday or event with other relatives, talk to them about their expectations and agree on how you can best support one another.
  7. recognize that mourning is a process, and you can’t speed it up. Consider different ways of remembering the person you lost, like making a scrapbook of memories, planting a tree, lighting a candle or praying with your minister
  8. talk about triggers that make them feel upset – this will help you understand if they suddenly seem to go downhill.
  9. don’t try to fix this. You can’t
  10. offer practical help. Don’t just say, “I’m here if you need anything.” Tell them what you can do and when, (and be realistic about what you can offer). Make sure you ask before you make changes around the house or with their routines.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to help; or what has helped you.


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7 thoughts on “Helping those who grieve

  1. 1. Absolutely, and be aware that in the first few days and weeks the pain is going to be raw in the extreme. Sometimes time and space will be all you want, sometimes you really need people. Be prepared for both, and make room for the grief to express itself, however that comes out (take a look at Lewis’s ‘A Grief Observed’ and see the difference between the immediate and the later expressions of this).

    2. Really painful, but true – you need to find a way to grieve deeply. A few weeks after I lost my wife, I booked a weekend away at a quiet spot on the coast. I spent most of the first few days just weeping and mourning – that was a major step in helping me to even consider looking past my loss.

    3. As the bereaved, everything changes, and one of the hardest things is finding motivation to pick your life up again. A great friend of mine invited me to come and stay with them for a month when I felt ready – that was so helpful because it allowed me to just reflect and ‘be’ without any pressures. That allowed me to re-gain a little of myself once again and start to take small steps forward. Friends and Family can be great like that, but they must give you time.

    4. Encouraging more happier memories by visiting places associated with these as time goes on may help. I have a favorite beach where I can recall summer days of picnics and great conversations. These treasures can be so precious as the years unfold.

    5. Grief just breaks upon you deeply, even after years of pretty ‘normal’ times.

    6. Time can really help make such triggers moments that can be better – recalling the good.

    7. Love the scrapbook idea. I have a collection of photos, birthday and anniversary cards and poems that can really help to cradle such moments.

    8. Understanding is essential. Mercy is found sometimes amidst pain, so seek to be alongside and comforting, even if the moments can on occasion be bruised.

    9. Absolutely.

    10. One of the best “therapies” was to go further with the passion my wife had left me – photography. Friends quickly picked up on that and helped facilitate that direction. Find what interests the bereaved person now and gently but clearly encourage this to flourish.

    The biggest enemy, long-term, can be loneliness, so be certain that the person is truly engaged with others.

    Hope that helps.

  2. Very welcome, Emma. I’ve often wondered if contributing a chapter regarding this to a book on the subject would be helpful, so if you ever hear of anyone thinking about doing something that might find that of use, please feel free to put them in touch.

  3. #1 Good thoughts. Yes, we need to let people be raw sometimes, and remember that death is not the only traumatic loss a person can have. Divorce is often experienced as a “death without a funeral” and the loss of a child you never saw can be as gut wrenching as any other.

    As well, we should understand that anxiety is a normal and common stage of grieving, (especially for children, but the rest of us too).

    In the classic 5 stages of grief, the third stage is often called “bargaining”. While this may be true for the dying and close family members before the death, it’s a bit different for the bereaved. After the loss you are left trying to make sense of it all, and that third stage can often look more like anxiety and full blown panic attacks for people who have never before experienced them.

    Learning a few healthy self calming techniques can be really helpful, but knowing you are not alone is an even greater comfort. Many large churches now have regular grief support meetings available even to non-members, but its much better if support is coming from someone already in your life.

    Our family has experienced so much loss and death in the last few years and there are two more loved ones in fast decline right now. There are spouses and many children and grandchildren all grieving. As the group of sad anniversaries approached this year I felt myself internally gearing up for more losses, and I know others are struggling as well.

    Sadly, many in my family follow very hyper “Word of Faith” type teachings, where trouble, poverty, illness and death have no place. This has added heavy layers of despair and guilt to the weight of grief. It was wrong to prepare for the deaths (clearly a lack of faith) and then when the death actually came to pass, it was seen as a failure on someone’s part (clearly a lack of faith).

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