How to Help a Grieving Friend in Practical Ways

Published April 17, 2020
Friends consoling and caring for a person

It may feel difficult to know how to help a friend who has lost a loved one. Providing support to a friend who is grieving a loss can show them how much you care during a time of pain and vulnerability.

How to Help a Grieving Friend

Grief may be expressed in many ways and can ebb and flow in terms of intensity. Your friend may want to spend time alone or connect with others depending on their given state of mind. Be sure to check in often with them, listen to their thoughts, and be respectful of giving advice or your opinion only when asked to do so.

Show Your Support After the Funeral

Show your friend support through actions. Think about what would be most helpful to them at this time. This may include bringing over or sending them food, checking in with them, and letting them know you care by being there for them at any time. Keep in mind that many people stop checking in and sending their condolences a week or so after the memorial. To ensure your friend feels supported, continue to check in over the next months to years regarding their loss, especially on the anniversary of the loss if it's been over a year. Grief can last for quite a long time, even if your friend is not outwardly expressing their feelings. You can specifically:

  • Listen empathetically by verbalizing or showing them that you hear what they are saying
  • Validate their thoughts and feelings by saying something like, "I understand what you're saying", " I hear you", or "It sounds like you're feeling (insert emotion)". Paraphrasing what your friend says can help them feel understood and heard.
  • If possible, help them with any day-to-day task that you can. This can include child care, pet care, cleaning, cooking, and laundry. If they need help organizing anything memorial related, you can also step in if they'd like you to help take some tasks off of their plate so they can focus on processing.
  • Send them reminders that you are thinking about them and care about them. Let them know that you are there to help in any way.

Be Respectful of Boundaries

While someone is in the process of grieving, it's important to be extra mindful of boundaries and to make sure that you are being as respectful as possible of their unique experience. Do not transpose any of your religious thoughts onto their process, as this may feel offensive or awkward to them, even if your intentions are good. Try to solely focus on what feels comfortable to them, and if you aren't sure, it's best to ask. Knowing what to say to someone in the midst of grieving may feel overwhelming. To better understand their boundaries, you can say:

  • "I'm here for you any time day or night."
  • "Just wanted to check in and see how you are doing today."
  • "I'm thinking of you and was wondering if I could drop off or send you some food for dinner tonight."
  • "Is it okay if I check in with you later today?"
  • "Would you like me to call so we can chat?"
  • "Is it okay if I come over to help with (insert task)?"

If you're checking in with your friend prior to the funeral or memorial service, you can offer your help. As your friend, "How are the funeral arrangements going?" followed by, "Would you like help with anything?" This way, your friend can choose how to respond to your offer.

Two senior ladies supporting one another

Send Something Thoughtful

Sending a small, thoughtful gift may help your friend feel taken care of in a time where self-isolating behavior can kick in. This may assist them in feeling more connected to those who care about them. You can send them:

  • A relaxing candle and slippers to help them unwind
  • Their favorite dessert or take-out
  • Something that you know they need like groceries, a new dog bed, a cozy blanket, or a book
  • A pre-paid app that you know they'd enjoy such as a mindfulness meditation app, yoga app, reading app, or game
  • Their favorite flowers or a small, low maintenance plant if they enjoy gardening
  • Something meaningful like a special frame where they can place a favorite image of themselves with their deceased loved one
  • A journal or art kit if they enjoy processing in this way

How to Help a Grieving Friend Long Distance

If you are unable to connect with your friend in person, you may feel guilty about not being able to physically be there for them. There are still plenty of ways you can show them your support and help them feel loved during this difficult time. You can:

  • Write a caring letter or note to them.
  • Send something to their family if you have a relationship with them.
  • Make a donation in honor of their loved one who passed away.
  • Schedule time to video chat with them based on their needs.
  • Send thoughtful texts and continue to check in with them.
  • Give them a call and leave a caring voicemail if they don't answer.
  • Offer them a gift certificate for something helpful such as a child toy subscription service (to keep their little one entertained), a streaming or music service, a grocery or take out gift card, a pet subscription box, or anything else that you think they'd enjoy.
  • A gift card to their favorite store or a Visa gift card so they can use it for whatever is helpful.

Supporting a Grieving Friend

It can feel difficult to know how to support a friend who is in the process of grieving a loss. Being respectful of their boundaries, intently listening to them, and assisting them with whatever they need to make their day to-day feel a bit less stressful can make a world of difference to them.

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How to Help a Grieving Friend in Practical Ways