5 Ways to Support Someone Who is Grieving

How to be strong when a loved one needs it most.

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One thing in life is certain: We will all be touched by death. Yet, every loss is different because every death is unique, each relationship has a special set of highs and lows and every person will cope in their own way. Of course, no matter the particulars, support from family and friends is a crucial component of the healing process and lets the bereaved feel less alone.

Even though it can be hard to know what to do or say in these difficult moments, these five tips can help you approach your friend or family member with love and sensitivity:

Be brave

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Death is a difficult subject for many people to broach but—for a lot of individuals—talking is a key part of healing. You may feel awkward, but try to push through and offer your condolences in person. And if you can create the space for conversation without prying, do it. Sometimes what’s needed is a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold or a willing ear to listen.

Offer respect

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Because grief is such a personal thing, each individual will have their own set of coping methods. Whatever those may be—from setting a place for the deceased at the dinner table to writing long letters—try to respect their methods even if you don’t understand them. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and there is no set amount of time for how long it will take.

Take initiative

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Offering to lend a hand is a sweet gesture, but it may be hard for your grieving friend or family member to organize a list of essential tasks. Try to put yourself in their shoes. If you were feeling sad, lonely or exhausted, what chores would feel too daunting? Would you need help cooking meals? Walking the dogs? Cleaning the house? Mowing the lawn? Instead of saying “let me know if you need anything,” make specific offers of assistance or—if you know the person well—write your own to-do list and check things off as you go. 

Boost social and physical activity

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Getting out of the house won’t cure the pain, but movement, fresh air and a change of scenery can be much-needed distractions and help your loved one to move forward in their new life. Group activities can also build a feeling of community and allow older adults to forge new connections even if their lifelong friends are no longer with them. Just be mindful of their wishes and try to encourage rather than nag.

Get extra help

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If, after a period of time, your loved one is still unable to get off the couch, shower or do basic self-care activities, it’s time for them to speak to a grief counsellor or attend bereavement support groups. Of course, they can attend even if they seem to be managing, but it’s especially important to assist them with finding information and services if they can’t do it for themselves. You may wish to offer to drive them to their appointments or meetings, or babysit their children so they can attend sessions on their own.

Even if you aren’t able to visit your loved one in person, create a sense of support, safety and community with a condolence card, a tribute photo album or a phone call that lets them know you hold them in your heart.

For more information on grief and how you can help a friend or loved one, visit the Arbor Memorial blog.

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