9 Ways to Help a Grieving Loved One

9 Ways to Help a Grieving Loved One

We asked experts for practical advice on supporting someone after a loss.

By: Heather Chaet

There comes a time in all of our lives when we lose someone we love. None of us are immune. This also means there will come a time when we will need to support someone near and dear as he or she deals with the complexity of grief. There is no how-to guide for helping a loved one during a troubled time like this, but we chatted with a few experts who gave us some practical ways to comfort someone struggling with loss and grief.

1. Be patient. “Grief is a slow and natural process. Allow your loved one to grieve at their own pace,” says Elizabeth Berrien, certified creative grief coach, author ofCreative Grieving: A Hip Chick's Path from Loss to Hope, and co-founder of The Respite: A Centre for Grief & Hope.

Carl Grody, a licensed independent social worker specializing in family therapy, agrees. “Everybody goes through grieving in their own time, and sometimes you can get frustrated that the grieving loved one seems ‘stuck,’” says Grody. “Don't worry. They'll make it through the process.” Grody says patience is especially important when dealing with kids who are grieving. “Kids often grieve differently than adults. They might seem quiet, or they may seem to be shrugging it off, but they're really confused by it all and are trying to process and understand what happened. It's OK to ask how they're feeling, but if they're not ready to talk about it, be patient.”

2. Don’t be afraid to talk about the person who died. Berrien emphasizes how important talking about the deceased can be to someone who is grieving. “Do not be afraid to mention their loved one's name. It is important for the grieving person to know that their loved one will never be forgotten,” says Berrien.

3. Encourage your loved one to find his own way to mourn. Elizabeth Fournier, a lifetime mortician, who is often asked how to support grieving a loved one, suggests a wide variety of strategies to work through the grief process. “Writing is great. Yelling is great. Throwing rocks at trees is mean, but great. I once encouraged a woman to go to [a thrift store] and buy a box of old dishes and throw them against the walls inside her garage. She moved mountains ahead in her grief process.”

Grody reminds folks to “accept that there's no right way to grieve. Each person experiences the process differently because each person looks at the loss through their own lens.”

4. Be careful with the words you use. Debbra Gossen, RN, a grief management specialist, explains that sometimes we say things we think will help make the person feel better, but those statements actually come out in an awkward, not-so-helpful manner. “Never try and compare your own experiences with a grieving person,” Gossen says. “Use phrases such as ‘You will get through it’ rather than ‘You will get over it.’” Also, be mindful of how a statement like, “He's in a better place now” might be misunderstood and seem to be minimizing the loss.

Berrien suggests that a simple, “How can I help?" or "What can I do for you right now?" is often all you need to say.

5. Help your loved one keep the relationship to the deceased. “It is empowering to maintain a relationship with the person who died, no matter how private or invisible,” says Fournier. “The emotional bond is intact and strong even after death. Talking out loud to him or her while out walking or cleaning the house is normal and helpful.” Fournier suggests those that are grieving continue to participate in activities that they enjoyed with the deceased, whether it is going to Tuesday night bingo or for a Saturday hike or volunteering at a soup kitchen. As a support, offer to tag along if he or she would like company.

More from P&G everyday: 7 Important Tips for Talking to Kids About Death and Loss


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6. Help create rituals to remember the person who died. Berrien suggests brainstorming an annual way to cherish the memory of the deceased. “Help them develop a ritual around holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries that will help them honor their loved one,” says Berrien. For example, having a special gathering, lighting candles, holding a celebratory event, or taking a yearly trip to a favorite place.

7. Offer support in the short and long term. Especially for friends or loved ones you don’t see every day, checking in at the one-month mark (and beyond) may be just as critical as the days right after the funeral. “Grieving loved ones are often flooded with assistance immediately after a death, but after awhile, everyone assumes the grieving person is OK and even doing well,” notes Grody. “Try checking in after a month or so has gone by. Sometimes, just the offer of dropping off a meal or helping with another errand will take stress off someone and show that you care as they begin adjusting to the day-to-day life without their loved one.”

8. Encourage them to talk to a professional if needed. Berrien says providing information on support resources, such as books, grief centers, and support groups, is key. “There are specialists the mourner can talk to who will listen to them, and they actually know what to say,” adds Fournier. “It is essential to seek professional help if feelings become overwhelming.”

9. Listen. The main foundation of support is just being there for your loved one. “Sometimes, all they simply need to do is speak their feelings. You do not have to know any answers or solutions, but being a non-judgmental listener and allowing them to express their heart can be extremely comforting,” says Berrien.

How have you comforted a grieving loved one?

Heather Chaet documents her mini parenting successes, epic mommy fails, and everything in between for a plethora (love that word!) of publications and websites such as CafeMom, New York Family, and AdWeek. While her online persona is found at heatherchaet.com, Heather lives in New York City with her film director husband and one insanely curious, cat-obsessed daughter.

Image ©iStock.com/Juanmonino

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