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Do It Better: How to Comfort Someone who is Grieving a Loss

By Joyce Venezia Suss

One of the biggest life challenges is grieving the loss of a loved one, but comforting someone who is grieving can also be difficult. Many people feel awkward, unsure of the right things to say, or how much comfort and support to offer. Every person handles grief in different ways. Here are some suggestions on how you can help.

It’s not inappropriate to express sympathy to casual acquaintances with a simple message via email or a card. For family and good friends, it’s best to show compassion with your presence. Offer a hug, let them cry, and most of all listen to what they have to say. 

Don’t start with “How are you?” There is no easy way to answer that question. Express your sympathy over their loss, then just listen. Someone who is grieving may want to share how they feel at this moment, memories of their loved one, perhaps even anger, guilt or shame about the past. Others become anxious over everything that is happening. If they are silent, just sit silently with them; your presence can be a great comfort.

Don’t make judgments, and don’t offer advice. Don’t compare their loss with your personal losses unless the circumstances are similar and appropriate. And even then, use your discretion – it may be better shared at a later time.

Let them cry. There is no shame in crying, and it can bring relief. Don’t try to stop their tears.

Don’t comment on how they look. Grieving people don’t need to hear that they look tired, sad, drained or depressed, which will likely make them feel worse.

Offer sincere statements such as “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “This must be so painful for you.” There are no perfect words at times like this; just speak from the heart. If you ask, “What can I do to help you?” be sure to follow through on any requests or make suggestions.

Avoid cliché comments such as “You’ll feel better soon” or “They are in a better place.” Avoid comments such as “It was God’s will” as not everyone shares the same spiritual beliefs.

Share good memories. If you had a good relationship with the deceased or recall a happy memory, share it with those who are grieving. They may hear stories never heard before that may leave them with a smile and help them heal. If you didn’t know the deceased, ask questions about what they liked to do or what made them happy.

Help with practical things. Cook or purchase easy-to-serve meals they can eat immediately or freeze for later. Offer to babysit or take their young children out for some fun, or do the family’s laundry. Ask for a grocery list or if they need some errands completed.

Check in periodically after the funeral. True grief sometimes comes out days or weeks later. Make sure those grieving are eating and sleeping enough. Offer again to help if they feel overwhelmed, especially if their bills and paperwork are being ignored.

Remember important dates. Birthdays, anniversaries and holidays can be difficult for those grieving, especially in the first year. If you know those dates, check in and let them know you are thinking of them.

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