Supporting a Bereaved Friend or Relative

Advice on ways to support and help someone through grief

Last updated: 9 July 2019

A man and woman in silhouette holding hands whilst standing on rocks and looking across a bay, with sailing boats in the background

Photo by Andreas Rønningen on Unsplash

If you are supporting a friend who is grieving after a loved one has died, there are lots of things you can say and do to comfort and help them cope with their loss. It is important to remember, however, that everyone’s experience of grief is unique, and there is no timeline on it. The best thing you can do is focus on supporting them, without any expectations of ‘fixing’ their pain.

1. Talk to them

It is normal and understandable to feel uncomfortable or awkward about talking to someone after a loved one has died, but condolences can be very helpful for a friend who is grieving after a bereavement. They might feel isolated and alone, especially after the death of a spouse or partner. Even saying “I’m so sorry” can be comforting, and is definitely better than staying silent or ignoring them. If, however, your friend has stated a preference for no contact you should respect that. If you do not have the opportunity to speak to them in person sending a condolence message can be a nice gesture of support. If you cannot make it to the funeral of your friend’s loved one, you can send a funeral excuse letter explaining your absence and offering support at other times.

2. Talk about the person who has died

If you are talking to a bereaved friend don’t be afraid to mention the person who has died if it comes up in conversation. Ignoring it or changing the subject to avoid upsetting your friend might make them feel as though you have forgotten their loved one.

3. Listen to them

If a friend is grieving for a loved one who has died, being there for them and listening to their feelings can be very helpful. If they ask for your opinion or advice then you should feel free to give it, but if they just need a shoulder to cry on you should be mindful of this and let them express their emotions without interruption or judgement.

4 Offer them practical help

People who are grieving for a loved one who has died sometimes struggle to ask for help, even if they really need it. Offering to cook for a bereaved person, clean, babysit or provide other practical help for them can be very useful. Always ask before you step in and don’t be offended if your friend rejects your support. They might have a lot of other people helping them or they might prefer to manage things themselves. Respect their decision and let them know that you will be there for them if they change their mind. Sensitive offers of support will probably be appreciated, even if they do not need it at the time.

5. Invite them to social events

Remember to invite your bereaved friend to social events. They might decide to decline it, but they will not want to feel excluded from your life. Let them know that you understand if they cannot attend, and that you will be happy to see them at an event whenever they are ready for it.

Finally, remember that many bereaved people get lots of support and help in the first few weeks after a loved one has died, but this can dry up after the funeral. If your friend is grieving for someone close to them they might continue to mourn their death for the rest of their lives. Keeping in touch with them and being aware of painful occasions, such as the anniversary of the death, can be very helpful.

Supporting someone who has been bereaved can be demanding, especially if you have a lot of other responsibilities and stresses in your life, such as looking after young children or elderly parents. If this happens do not feel afraid to set boundaries and gently explain to your friend that you want to help them, but they might benefit from professional bereavement support or grief counselling.