6 Thoughtful Ways to Help a Grieving Family

Put your love into action with these heartfelt ways to help a grieving family.

Published September 29, 2023
Cropped shot of two young women embracing each other at home

If you know a grieving family that's experienced a loss, your heart is probably breaking for them. For all the wishes in the world, there’s nothing you can do to take their pain away.

But when a family you know is dealing with grief and you don’t know what to do next, fall back on these helpful ideas (and avoid making a few mistakes along the way).

Heartfelt Ways to Help a Grieving Family

When someone you love experiences a loss, one of the worst feelings is wanting to do something but not knowing what you can. Most often, people thrum with the urge to do something to help their people out. While you can’t take their hurt away, you can still help them by showing up and offering your support in these heartfelt ways.

1. Continue Showing Up After the Funeral

You don’t tie up grief in a little bow once you’ve laid the dead to rest. It persists, slamming into you in waves for months and years. And while it does get easier with time, the first few months in the aftermath can be the hardest.

So often, once the casket’s closed, people stop showing up. One way you can be a supportive friend is to continue showing up week after week. When the casseroles are all eaten and the condolence cards stop coming in the mail, your mere presence will mean so much more. Whether it’s to fold laundry, make dinner together, or have a laugh with, just keep showing up.

2. Offer to Do the Dirty Work

When someone loses a person, a lot of people want to just bake their perfunctory casserole, give their condolences, and wipe their hands clean. Instead of baking another casserole for the family, offer to do the dirty work.

Grab the toilet brushes and clean their bathrooms, make sure the trash gets taken out, and help the kids actually finish their homework. Use your energy to help fill their energy cup back up.

Quick Tip

Creating a personalized sympathy care package for the grieving family is another way to show you care in a unique way and send a message you're thinking about their needs. 

3. Be Physically Comforting

Young man sitting by worried male friend in bedroom

Physical comfort is such an easy thing to give, but it’s not always the first thing that comes to mind. And sure, not everyone wants a long and lingering hug, but physical touch can be really healing, especially for youngsters who don’t quite understand what’s going on.

So, be the shoulder to cry on, wipe tears off of people’s faces, grip their shoulders, and press their heads to your chest. Root them in the present by enveloping them in their love. Grief can make you feel like you’re going to float away, and you can be the thing tethering them down.

Quick Tip

You know your friend or loved one best, so if you don't feel like physical comfort will be what they need, trust your intuition and try another way to show the family support. 

4. Bring Some Levity By Taking Them Out

When you’re grieving, it can be hard to pull yourself out of that overwhelming sadness. But when you’re on the other side, you can be the push a person or family needs to get out of their rut. Laughter can be good medicine — and a nature walk through the park or a spontaneous ice cream break might be the boost everyone needs to get through the day.

5. Be Slow to Speak and Quick to Listen

Everyone processes grief differently; no two people in a family are going to react the same way. But you won’t be able to pick up on the things that each person needs if you’re not being a good listener. So, be slow to speak your comforting words and instead be quick to listen to the stories, memories, or requests they’re sharing with you.

Quick Tip

Kids and even adults can sometimes have a hard time putting their grief into words, so trying different ways to help them cope, like doing a grief art activity or creating a memory jar together, could also help. 

6. Take the Kids for a Night or Two

Family leaving house with kids

If your family friends have children (especially young children), offer to watch the kids for a night or two. It’s hard enough grieving a loss, but trying to do so behind closed doors while keeping some semblance of normalcy around the house for the kids can be a nightmare.

Give your parent friends the space to really dive into their grief and process it by being a safe space for their kids to go to.

3 Things Not to Do When Helping a Grieving Family

Most people don’t intend to hurt the people they love, but sometimes you can step on some toes. In a period of grieving, emotions are so heightened that it’s easy for good intentions to go south. Consider avoiding these things when you’re helping the grieving families you love most.

1. Don't Push Your Presence On Them

Grieving is a tumultuous time, and it pushes people towards isolation. Compound that with the demands of keeping a family together, and it can feel impossible to overcome. Don’t make your friends overexert themselves just to keep you company. Instead, check-in and make sure they have the bandwidth to visit with you.

2. Don't Assume You Know What They Need

It’s a good idea to walk through life with the mantra that you don’t ever know what someone actually needs, but it’s especially important not to assume that when someone’s grieving. What worked for you won’t necessarily work for them. Let them come to you with what they need, and be open to following through with whatever that is — even if you disagree.

3. Don't Try to Rationalize Their Loss

The last thing someone wants to hear when they’ve lost someone close is your own personal or spiritual way of justifying their death. Although it might be well-intentioned, it’s probably not going to help them heal and might only make them hurt more.

What Matters Is That You Put in the Effort

When it comes to loss, everyone is equally clueless about what to do. Grieving is complex and challenging, and loved ones don’t always know how to help. But what matters is that you put in the effort to try.

If you show up with open arms and a willingness to be there, the family will feel all the love and support you’re trying to give, even if you bungle it up on occasion.

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6 Thoughtful Ways to Help a Grieving Family