Helping the grieving – be a compassionate friend

Following on from my blog post on dealing with grief in Western Society this posting is a helpful guide to how you help a grieving friend or relative through their bereavement, and learn to be a compassionate friend..

Helping the grieving person through grief

When family or friends are grieving a loved one, people want to be there for them but often find ourselves not knowing what to say or they are afraid of intruding. Western society does not openly talk about grief which often leads to the bereaved to feel lonely and isolated in their grief. Avoiding talking about the deceased or not showing compassion is hurtful to a grieving person.  You cannot take away the pain of the loss but you can provide much-needed comfort and support.

How can you support a bereaved person and be a compassionate friend?

  1. grief and lossContact the person regularly. A phone call or text shows the person that you are there and thinking of them. A bereaved person will be feeling abandoned so these little actions could be a great comfort to them. It would be helpful if you take the initiative in making the contact as it is not always possible for someone who is grieving to meet your expectations or demands during this time.
  2. Listen and be silent.  A bereaved person will want to talk about the deceased.  They will need to understand their loss to enable them to slowly come to terms with it. They do not need advice on how to grieve or how to ‘move on’, they just need to talk. Remember bereavement is a personal experience and no two people grieve the same way so drawing parallel stories about how you grieved will be hurtful and not helpful.
  3. Let the person cry or express their emotions. Part the grief cycle is to show different emotions. A grieving person needs to ‘let these out’ to help them understand what they are feeling. Knowing they can do this freely or without being judged is important to accepting grief and loss. If it is appropriate give them a hug.
  4. Be patient. Let the bereaved lean on your and tell their story over and over again. It is important they understand how and why the deceased person died. If they keep telling you the same story do not tell them, let them repeat it as many times as they wish. They need time to accept their loss
  5. Be prepared to talk about the bereaved person. It can be hurtful when people are too awkward to talk about the dead person.  Talking positively about the dead person is a comfort.
  6. Remember the first anniversary of death, birthday etc. These events are difficult days for a bereaved person. The lead up to the day and the event itself will bring up many emotions. Let them know you are there for this difficult time and don’t lose touch. Be there for them. All stages of bereavement are important.
  7. Don’t rush the person with their grief. Accept that some people will take longer than others.
  8. Often a grieving person cannot think straight and find it difficult to concentrate. Offer support by asking ‘Tell me what you want me to do’. They may feel guilty on accepting your help so if you are visiting a supermarket you may ask them if they would like to join you.



What not to say…..

There are some comments that are not helpful and can cause further stress and upset for those grieving.  Avoid saying:

  • The deceased person is in a better place
  • You have precious memories
  • Tell the person they are grieving incorrectly with comments like ‘pull yourself together’.
  • I know how you feel
  • It is time to put this behind you now
  • You’re still young, you can rebuild your life

We can all learn to be compassionate friends. Bereavement will happen to all of us at different stages of our life and the right support to get through this difficult time is critical to enable us to accept the death


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