Helping a Friend Who is Grieving

Helping a grieving friend takes kindness, empathy, patience, flexibility, even a sense of humor.  Though you have to respond in the moment, developing some knowledge, attitude and skills can help you feel more prepared.
  • Expect that your friend’s moods and reactions will change frequently; this is normal in grief.
  • Recognize some grievers are more likely to express themselves through talking or tears, while others may do something more active, like start a memorial project. Most people will use a mixture of grieving styles over time.
  • Realize that in the immediate days after a death your friend may be so buoyed by an outpouring of support that she appears to feel fine or she may be totally devastated and unable to respond to caring friends.
  • Be aware of key moments, such as a birthday or holiday, which can be particularly hard.
  • Remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve, just individual ways of absorbing the reality of loss and rebuilding a new and different life.
  • Learn more about bereavement by reading additional articles about grief on this site or in your local library.
  • Check that you don’t have unrealistic expectations for your friend to “move on” in a predetermined time schedule.
  • Appreciate that adjusting to loss is a process, just like a seed takes its own time to grow into a plant.
  • Tune in to what your friend’s mood is so you can be serious, silly, or consoling as the moment requires. Take your cues from your friend; he or she may want to talk about the person who has died, or instead may need to take a break from grief and talk about something else.
  • Listen often; speak sparingly.
  • Offer practical help: make meals, give rides, run errands.
  • Ask questions that aren’t too open-ended: What are you plans for this week?” rather than “How do you feel today?”
  • Suggest activities that have enjoyed in the past: “Want to take a walk?” or “Let’s go to lunch tomorrow.”
  • Inquire often: “What do you need?  I want to help.”
Because you know your friend well, you can also sense if he or she is behaving in a way that is self-destructive or hurting others, or if his or her ability to function in daily routines has become severely impacted. These behaviors may signal that your friend needs additional support through a grief counselor or from a bereavement support group. 
Perhaps the most important thing is to create an atmosphere of presence, so that your friend knows you will be there through the difficulties of grieving. There is neither a predictable timeline nor a finish line for grief; only a process of moving toward a changed future. Compassion and caring support from friends like you can make those steps into the future more tolerable and steady.