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Best Ways to Support a Grieving Loved One

Updated on September 20, 2017
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Dr. Yvette Stupart is a clinical counselor and educator. She gives insights on how to experience emotional health and relational well-being.

Grief is the deep distress that is caused by loss, including the death of a loved one.
Grief is the deep distress that is caused by loss, including the death of a loved one. | Source

Offering Support to a Grieving Loved One

Worldwide, people experience tragic losses, and mourn the deaths of their children, husbands, friends, and colleagues. People die from aircraft tragedies, natural disasters, acts of violence, and terminal illnesses. But whatever the cause of death, the people closest to the deceased will struggle with overwhelming grief.

If there is someone close to you who lost a loved one, the death could be painful and devastating. Your loved one may be struggling with difficult emotions such as shock, anger, and guilt. He or she may also be facing the challenge of adjusting to life without the person he or she loved.

What this person needs is an accepting and supportive network, which includes you, to help him or her adjust and rebound from the loss. Initially, it could be difficult to find the right words to say, but don’t let that stop you from reaching out to the grieving person. You could find it helpful to recall your own times of grief and loss. What were the things that others did or said that you found most supportive?

While your loved one is different from you, the answers to this question could give you clues to what might be supportive and comforting. At the same time, here eight suggestions to help you offer compassionate support to a friend or relative who is grieving.

Understanding the Grieving Process

1. Understand the Grieving Process

Helpguide's Melinda Smith and Jeanne Segal explain that when you understand the grieving process, it puts you in a better position to provide the help and comfort your bereaved loved one needs. Your caring compassion is what you friend or relative needs.

Take time to get information on bereavement and grieving to help you understand what the person might be experiencing. Here is helpful information that could improve your knowledge on the stages of grief and the accompanying emotions of the grieving process.

There are five stages of grief that reflect different emotional reactions as the person tries to deal with his or her loss.

  • Denial: This usually occurs immediately after the loss of a loved one. This is not an indication of not caring for the deceased person, but it helps to ease the intensity of the loss the bereaved person experiences.
  • Anger: The bereaved person feels helpless in the face of the loss he or she experiences. As such, the person projects his or her anger on the people around him or her. The person might blame himself, others, God or even death.
  • Bargaining: At this stage, the person becomes preoccupied with postponing the loss with for example, good behavior or deeds.
  • Depression: The bereaved person recognizes the extent of his or her loss. Thus unrealistic guilt or shame focusing on not doing enough to save the deceased could lead to depression.
  • Acceptance: At this final stage when the bereaved person comes to terms with his or her feelings about the loss. Even more, the person comes to some peace with what happens.

It is also important to understand that the grieving process differs from person to person, and recovery from bereavement has no set timetable. So be patient with your grieving friend or relative, and allow the person to develop functional methods of coping with grief.

Your loved one could find that the devotional book, Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love, offers a source of comfort. The authors point out that each person moves through grief in their own way and pace. Your bereaved loved one could gain understanding of the stages of the grief while he or she receives spiritual help moving through the meditations at his or her own pace.

2. Reach Out with Patience and Compassion

To help your loved one to grief constructively, you need to be accepting and supportive. You could find that the person's emotional reactions swing from one extreme to the next. Though sadness and loss are universal, there is no predictable timetable to complete the grieving process, nor is there a right or wrong way to grief.

Your friend or relative must feel free to grieve, and people grieve differently depending on factors such as coping style, the person’s faith and the nature of the loss. This means demonstrating patience and not telling the person what you think he or she should be doing or feeling.

Acknowledge the fact that someone died for the person, and don't try to avoid the subject. Then the bereaved will be more open to self-disclose about his or her feelings about the loss. Remind the bereaved that although he or she lost someone special, there are still other people who love him or her.

Encourage your grieving loved one to talk about her feelings.
Encourage your grieving loved one to talk about her feelings. | Source

Understanding Bereavement and Grief Poll

Which set of features most likely indicates that a person is grieving?

See results

3. Establish Open Communication

Give the person suffering loss the opportunity to talk. The bereaved might want to share feelings of sadness or guilt, talk about how the loved one died, or reminisce on the positive memories. The person might relate stories many times, but be patient.

Establish open communication to encourage sharing of feelings. It is important that you listen actively. As an active listener, you respond to the bereaved in a way that promotes mutual understanding. Pay attention to what the bereaved is saying fully, the person wants to know that you are listening and understanding. So listen to "hear" the feelings behind the words.

Don't ask too many questions, as this could give the bereaved a feeling of being judged. But encourage the bereaved to do talk, and this could help in the process of accepting the death of the loved one.

Listen and encourage your friend or relative to share positive memories of the loved one who died.
Listen and encourage your friend or relative to share positive memories of the loved one who died. | Source

4. Allow for Expressions of Emotions

The grieving process involves a wide range of emotions including sadness, anger, depression, and anxiety. The healthy way to dealing with these emotions is to release them rather than suppressing them.

The person will want to share his or her feelings and when you are permissive of these feelings, this could help him or her to constructively move through the grieving process. As you listen carefully with compassion, you offer emotional help to your grieving friend or relative.

Grieving takes time, so allow the person to move through the normal stages of grief in his or her own way. Then your loved one is better able to acknowledge the loss he or she is facing, deal with the emotions, and move to resolution.

The reality of grief is painful and difficult to accept, but healing will come through the process of grieving.
The reality of grief is painful and difficult to accept, but healing will come through the process of grieving. | Source

Stages of Grief

Stage
Name of Stage
Description
1
Denial
The person denies the reality of the loss. This serves as an emotional buffer for the pain.
2
Anger
When the reality of the loss emerges, anger may arise from frustration, and the person blames others, death, or even God.
3
Bargaining
Out of a sense of helplesssness, the person tries to make a deal (praying or begging) to reverse the loss.
4
Depression
A sense of finality that the loved one is gone, could bring a sense of hopelessness and regret
5
Acceptance
The person learns to accept the reality of the loss. He or she learns to live with the loss and moves on.
The stages do not necessarily follow an orderly path for everyone, as outlined on the chart. For example, while some people might go through all five stages, others might skip stages.

5. Encourage Safeguards of Well-Being

Your friend or relative could neglect his or her well-being during the grieving process. The bereaved could become so consumed with the intensity of his or her loss that personal, emotional and physiological needs are neglected.

A critical way you can support the bereaved is to encourage him or her, for example, to get adequate rest, proper diet, and exercise during this time. Many people who are grieving suffer from insomnia, headaches, or loss of appetite. If this is the case with your friend or relative, you might need to encourage him or her to see a medical doctor.

If there are signs of depression or other emotional problems, encourage your loved one to seek the help of a professional counselor for further emotional help and treatment of issues such as anxiety and depression. You could also assist your friend to find grief support group that could instill hope and help to ease loneliness.

6. Offer Help in Practical Ways

It is important to give practical help and support to the bereaved, so don't just say, "Call me if there is anything I can do to help." There are a number of things you can do for the person suffering loss. Your practical help could relieve the person of those concerns, and free him or her to attend to more pressing matters.

Consider helping your grieving relative or friend in the following ways, as necessary.

  • shopping for groceries
  • taking the children to school
  • preparing comfort meals to encourage person to eat
  • informing friends and relative about the memorial or funeral
  • taking walks with friend to keep him or her active
  • taking your loved one out for a change of scenery
  • taking care of other everyday tasks

When you help in these practical ways, it not only relieves the bereaved from usual day to day commitments, but such support can help to keep the person in touch with what is happening in his or her environment. This helps to take some of the focus of the loss.

Grief: Getting the Needed Help Poll

When you experienced loss, which of the following was most helpful to you? People ...

See results

7. Inspire Faith and Spirituality

In face of death and loss, people search for true meaning in life. As the bereaved person reaches out for divine strength, you could help him or her find hope and inspiration in face of emotional pain. Your loved one can keep faith alive in hard times, and move on a path to recovery from bereavement.

If you feel that you can't give your loved one this kind of support, encourage the person to speak to his or her spiritual leader, for example, a pastor or rabbi. But be sensitive, and try to respond to the person's needs and desires instead of your wishes.

In my own times of bereavement and grief, there were specific persons who inspired me as I moved through the grieve process. For example, my friend Lena was one my greatest source of support when I had a miscarriage. She and people from my church offered prayers, words of love, and promises from the Bible that encouraged me, and connected me with the God of all comfort and hope.

Learning the Lessons: Owning our Grief

8. Offer Ongoing Support

It is always important to remember that grieving doesn't end at the funeral or memorial, but is a continuing process that needs time. Keep connected with the person to provide ongoing support and help that might be needed.

Since there is no timetable for grief, it might take a longer time for your bereaved friend or relative to heal than someone else. After the funeral, the person could feel alone when most people stop keeping in touch.

Your support, even at this stage, could be invaluable. While the person still experiences feelings of loneliness and loss, in time, he or she can develop effective ways to cope, and successfully adjust to the loss.

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.

— From a headstone in Ireland

What Makes People Thrive After Loss?

A Final Word: Showing Care in Times of Grief

Loss of lives is more than global statistics. People in your circle die, and you, your relatives, and friends experience loss, bereavement, and grief. In the video above, author David Kessler explains that, "One thing we will never do is take a way the pain of these events. However, you are going to live on after those events, and you have control over this."

So responding to a loved one’s loss with care, reassurance, and in practical ways, helps the bereaved adjust and recover from the loss. Supporting a friend or relative who lost a loved one can be difficult. But the emotional reactions such as anger, shock, and sadness that the bereaved experiences are normal. Importantly, these emotions are parts of the adjustment and healing process.

With compassion, effective communication, and an understanding of the grieving process, you can offer the needed support and comfort during this challenging journey. While you might experience feelings of inadequacy, you can make a profound difference.

References and Further Reading

Smith, M. & Segal, J, (2014). Coping with grief and understandingly the grieving process. Accessed from Helpguide.org March 26, 2014.

Smith, M. & Segal, J, (2014). Supporting a grieving person: Helping others through grief, loss, and bereavement. Accessed from Helpguide.org March 26, 2014.

Turner, J. S. & Helms B. D. (1995). Lifespan development (5th ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

WebMD (2014). Coping with Grief. Accessed from WedMD.com March 26, 2014.

© 2014 Yvette Stupart PhD

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    • Purpose Embraced profile image
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      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Thanks for sharing your experience of loss Ken. Yes, facing loss is painful, and we experience emotional reactions such as shock, sadness, anger.

    • KenDeanAgudo profile image

      Kenneth C Agudo 3 years ago from Tiwi, Philippines

      I have gone through with this, grieving for someone you have lost, not literally lost but losing someone whom you really love. It really sucks and it really hurts, it feels like your heart is pierced by a sharp knife. I feel worn out every day and my eyes were blurry all the time. I sleep late and often times I woke up crying.

      Its painful.

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      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Great idea barbat79! This is your way of coping with your loss, moving to a closure, and honoring your loved one's memory. Thanks for sharing.

    • barbat79 profile image

      B A Tobin 3 years ago from Connnecticut

      Indeed. I see others have shared the way they grieve as well: As for me the final stage is planting a loved one's favorite tree or flower so that their memory is growing. I am not one to make a weekly trip to the graveyard...I feel that honoring them in the way I do, permits the positive recollections about who they were to me and still are within me.

      Thanks again and take care.

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      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Thanks Barbat79. We all have our grief stories - we share in this universal experience.

    • barbat79 profile image

      B A Tobin 3 years ago from Connnecticut

      Thank you for the informative hub on a tender subject.

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      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Hi Dawn, thanks for sharing your personal journey of grieving the loss of your brother. What you described about the reactions of different family members to his death, shows that people grieve differently. There is no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of a loved one.

      It appears that gathering the photos and organizing them in photo albums helped you to put some closure to your loss of your brother, and reduced your grief. I'm happy for you.

    • Dawn Fair profile image

      Dawn Fair 3 years ago from Maryland

      I lost my brother 10 years ago; he was only 27. It was a very tough time, all of us grieving in our own ways. For me, it was such a surreal experience. He was my big brother, you know? To me he was 10 feet tall and bullet proof, so it just didn't make sense that he was gone. That I would never see him again. Even to this day it's still hard to wrap my head around. For my father it was something else altogether. He broke down shouting about losing his only son. If you've ever seen Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the character of Amos Diggory reacting to his son's death is the same way my father had. My mom... She had to be strong for everyone. Then 9 months later, my grandmother passed away. That one was a bit easier because we had a chance to say goodbye. She had slipped into a coma after suffering a major stroke, so when she went into hospice we had our chance to say goodbye.

      But back to my brother and my grieving process, you know what helped me? Gathering pictures. We had a big box of photos over the years and I just collected every single one of them and put them into photo albums. I'm not even sure why it helped, but it just did. Recently people we work with lost their daughter/sister and I told them about this and how it helped.

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      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Denise thanks for sharing the recent bereavement in your family, and how the members are dealing with it. I do hope my hub can give some help in this time. Blessings.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      We recently experienced the death of my husband's mother. She has twelve children, and during the last few days of her life, the family gathered around her. It provided much strength to her aging husband. Each of the children reacted to the pending death in their own way. Some cried a lot, others were more stoic and practical, and still others took on the role of comforter rather than showing their own feelings. The recommendations in this hub will be a great help to me as I attend the funeral services with them.

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      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Thank you Suzanne. I am so happy you could find some useful ideas from my hub to help your children in their time of bereavement.

    • Suzanne Day profile image

      Suzanne Day 3 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      A timely hub. My children will very shortly be experiencing the death of their grandfather, and I am not that good at assisting people with grief, so it gave me some useful information, for which I have voted it "useful"!

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      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Thanks for your comments MsDora. The continuing support of a bereaved person is so important. Sometimes, after the funeral not many persons visit or call. This could be a lonely time for the person experiencing loss, and is likely to impact his or her recovery.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      I like the quote from the Irish tombstone. Still, we need the kind of advice you offer to help the grieving through the process. It is all good, but number eight is my biggest concern. We usually forget to check in with support after a while.

    • Purpose Embraced profile image
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      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Thanks DDE, I am happy you found my hub helpful. The loss of a loved one can be devastating, but we can reach out to each other and give compassionate support.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Grief can tear down ones mind emotionally, in and in other ways too your suggestions sound helpful and are most useful

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      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Thanks FlourishAnyway. We all experience bereavement and grief at different times in our lives. We are never really prepared for the loss of our loved ones. So the support and comfort that we receive during this time grief, can make a great difference in how we cope with our loss

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Yvette, this was a fantastic hub on a topic that sooner or later affects us all. When we are called to step up to the plate and support those who need us, your guidance here will be helpful.