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Supporting someone who is grieving

Grief is a normal and healthy response to loss, so support is less about ‘fixing’ things, and more about being present with them, showing them that whatever they’re going through is okay and that they’re not alone.

Below are a few things you can do to make someone’s grief journey a little easier. This will vary, so tune into what might be appropriate depending on the unique individual and your relationship with them. Supporting someone can be tough so remember to look after yourself too.

Small gestures to show you care

There is no ‘right’ thing to say or do after someone has died, but acknowledging the loss and showing some love can go a long way. This could be a text, a card, a small gift, or even responding to an email in a sensitive way. Keep in mind grief is a long process and doesn’t disappear after a week, month or year. Check in regularly, especially on special dates like birthdays and anniversaries. Let them know their grief and those who have died haven’t been forgotten.

Here’s a little something to let you know I’m still thinking about you and remembering xyz

Give opportunities to talk without intruding

Don’t be afraid to bring up the loss or ask how they’re doing, but consider when/where this might feel comfortable. Everyone is different – some people will share with close friends and family while others might remain private or speak to strangers who are less connected to the situation. If they do want to talk, make sure to actually listen. If they become emotional, encourage this instead of trying to move the conversation on or telling them to ‘be strong’. Offering advice or sharing a relatable story is occasionally helpful, but don’t make it about yourself. And the conversations don’t always have to be serious – ask about the happy memories too!

I know there’s not much I can do to fix it, but I’m happy to listen if you want to talk about anything, I won’t judge

Offer practical help and support

Grief can be exhausting and day-to-day tasks can become overwhelming. You could offer to bring round some shopping or do the washing up after you’ve dropped in for a cuppa. There’s also such a thing as ‘grief admin’ – sorting out accounts, doctor’s notes, essay extensions etc. You could help to research, write emails, or go with them to appointments. Be specific about what you’re offering and when.

I’m just nipping to the shops, do you need anything? Can come this afternoon and stay for a cuppa if you want company, or I’m happy to just drop it off.

Give them space and respect changes

Some people may seem ‘different’ after experiencing a loss and your relationship may feel strained at times. We know it can hurt, but try not to take it personally and keep empathising if they’re irritable, distant, or dealing with their grief in a way that you can’t understand. Sometimes they might not want company or to text you back. Keep letting them know you care and inviting them to things, with no pressure for them to respond. If you’re finding it really difficult, talk to them about it, but try coming from a place of love and care, rather than guilting or blaming them.

I’m finding it hard to know what to say or do to support you but I want you to know that I love you regardless

Remember they are still a NORMAL human being

While this is a huge thing to go through, remember it’s not all of who they are. Tiptoeing around them, making everything about the loss or assuming they will always be sad can be alienating and disempowering. Don’t expect them to be exactly as they were before, but know it’s okay to laugh and have a nice time together too. Resting and enjoying life is part of the healing too. 

I’m having a few people over for dinner on Saturday – will be a chilled one but we’d love to have you there if you fancy it

What next?

If you work at a university, please have a look at our staff training sessions. We also run workshops for friends hoping to support someone.