What to Do (and Not Do) When Someone Is Grieving

If you struggle to know what to say or do when someone is grieving, you’re not alone. Most people feel scared, uncertain, or frustrated during this vulnerable time.

But learning how to be genuinely supportive is one of the best gifts you can give your loved ones. Let’s get into the best suggestions you should know. 

Educate Yourself on How to Provide Grief Support 

First, it’s crucial to know that there isn’t a specific way to grieve. Grief isn’t a linear and predictable process. Grief symptoms often ebb and flow, and some people may be more open about their feelings than others. 

Focus on being supportive without being judgmental. Everyone reacts differently to loss, and it’s normal to feel a combination of shock, sadness, anger, fear, confusion, and even relief. 

There also isn’t a specific grief timeline. Some people may seem to “move on” quickly. However, that doesn’t mean they still aren’t hurting or experiencing emotions. Additionally, some people may feel like they’re taking too long to heal. That also doesn’t mean they’re doing anything wrong. 

Be Willing to Listen 

Supporting grief can be challenging because it taps into our own fears about loss. That said, if you want to be a good friend, it’s important to try to be present and supportive of your loved ones.

Acknowledge What Happened

Be assertive without skirting around the issue. I heard your mother died. This kind of communication conveys that you’re open (and brave enough) to talk about what happened. 

Express Your Condolences Without Any Platitudes or Questions

In almost every instance, it’s appropriate and complete enough to say, I’m so sorry to hear this happened. You can also comment on the relationship with a statement like I knew how close you two were. 

Don’t ask how they died. If it feels relevant, your loved one will tell you. Moreover, try to avoid grief cliches like saying they’re in a better place or that God has a plan. While you may believe these sentiments to be true, that doesn’t mean the griever feels that way.

Avoid “Should or Shouldn’t” Statements 

During grief, should statements sound like:

  • You should sue that doctor!
  • You should ask their wife if they knew what was going on.
  • You shouldn’t blame yourself.
  • You shouldn’t stop working right now- it’s important to stick to a routine.

These should or shouldn’t statements often have good intentions. However, they can also sound misguided, uninformed, and even controlling. It’s not up to you to decide how the griever should or shouldn’t feel or respond to their grief.

Be Willing to Sit With the Discomfort 

When it comes to grief, it’s normal not to know the right thing to say or do. Unfortunately, some people shy away from providing support because they feel so uncertain.

Instead, it’s perfectly reasonable to tell your loved one that you aren’t sure what to do, but that you want to be there for them. Let them know that you’ll sit with them for as long as they need.

Offer Practical Support

Grieving can be emotionally taxing, but that doesn’t mean that life stops moving. People still need to feed themselves, pay bills, take care of the children, and keep the house clean.

Unfortunately, many grievers struggle to reach out for help. They may feel too depressed or overwhelmed to think clearly. They might also worry about burdening others with their requests. 

Many times, people try to be helpful when they say, I’m always here for you. Just let me know if you need anything! While this is generous, it puts the ball in the griever’s court to decide how they want to take advantage of your offer.

Instead, try to be specific with how you offer support. Some examples include:

  • Dropping off casseroles or other meals on their doorstep.
  • Offering to babysit their children or pets while they make funeral arrangements.
  • Coming over to help clean or run errands.
  • Managing phone calls or messages from loved ones.

Watch For Worsening Symptoms

It’s normal for most people to feel depressed or anxious after losing a loved one. With time, these feelings tend to improve gradually. But if grief symptoms persist or worsen several months or years after the death, they may benefit from grief therapy

Some warning signs include:

  • Persistent sadness that doesn’t seem to show any signs of improvement.
  • Talks about death or a desire to be reunited with their loved one.
  • Withdrawing from work, usual activities, or friendships.
  • Extreme focus on the death or the details surrounding it. 
  • Drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Declining personal hygiene.

If you suspect your loved one might be struggling, encourage them to reach out for help. You can say this with a compassionate statement like, I’ve been worried about you since ____ died. I think it could be helpful if you talked to someone. 

Final Thoughts on Coping When Someone Is Grieving 

When someone is grieving, it’s normal to feel lost and overwhelmed yourself. These feelings may be exacerbated if you’re also coping with grief at the same time.

At Willow Counseling, we specialize in therapy for trauma and grief. We are here for you or your loved one. Contact us today to schedule a session

Willow Counseling, LLC – Nashville, TN

Willow Counseling, PLLC exists to provide quality trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community, recognizing the interconnectedness of our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. We work together to alleviate symptoms, learn better coping skills, relieve burdens, remove the pain of trauma, and so much more. However, our greatest desire is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again and to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.


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