10 Answers to the questions WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?

What can we do to help when someone we know has experienced a death of a loved one?

By Tanya Lord


“What can we do?”

“Let us know if there is anything at all we can help with”


               These are the questions that we ask when someone we care about has had a death in the family. These are the questions we are asked when someone we love has died. They are great questions spoken out of love and a true desire to help. The problem is that someone who is newly bereaved is not able to answer them. Not because they do not need help, they simply do not always know what to ask for. There is a level of confusion and disorganization that can happen to the newly and even the not so newly bereaved that makes answering these questions difficult. Partly, because the only answer that comes to their mind is “Yes! Please bring my loved one back!” or “Please help this pain to stop”. Sadly neither is in the power of the person asking to help.


However, there are some very concrete things that can be done to help someone who is grieving…


  1. Offer babysitting if appropriate. Give the griever some space to feel their feelings without the additional responsibility of having to care for children.
  2. Become a “grocery fairy” bring groceries not just once or twice but many times. Grocery shopping is notoriously difficult for the bereaved. They have to walk past reminders of all the things that they don’t need to buy anymore or favorite dishes that don’t need to be made. The grocery store is a veritable minefield of emotions in every aisle.
  3. Even if you are feeling uncomfortable with the intensity of emotions and pain stay with the bereaved. Walking or staying away sends the message that the feelings of grief are not okay. When someone dies it is normal to have extreme emotions, it would be crazy not to. These can be uncomfortable but just think if the situation was reversed how much you would want someone by your side for support.
  4. Offer to clean the house, bathrooms or kitchen or to mow the lawn or rake leaves.
  5. Offer to keep them company while they clean or do other household tasks. Mindless chores allows the mind to wander and can be stressful to do alone, having company can help keep the focus.
  6. Offer to take them out and when they say no…offer again and again. When they say yes be prepared to help them make a quick exit. Sometimes it is difficult to anticipate when a flood of emotions is going to occur.
  7. Phone, email, Facebook or text…stay in touch even if there is not a lot of response, they will know that you tried and eventually be able to respond
  8. Try to understand or know that you aren’t going to understand and that is okay. Offer concrete advice not platitudes. Share what has worked for you in the past but don’t try to make everything okay. Acknowledge the pain with a hug, a shoulder to cry on or even just a pat.
  9. Sit and listen. Grief is confusing and scary there are a lot of questions most that cannot be answered but need to be asked over and over anyway. Providing a sympathetic ear and a strong shoulder can work wonders.
  10. Suggest local support services ask at hospitals, funeral homes, hospices where there might be a grief support group.

    Okay that was ten but there is a number eleven perhaps the most valuable…
  11. Above all be assertive, don’t take no for an answer. “I am coming over tomorrow to help with _________(or whatever else I can do)”  “What time should I be at your house tomorrow?”


There is nothing that we can do to mitigate the pain of grief but it is most important that none of us feel alone when grieving. Be patient give lots of love and hugs and remember that grief has no time line.


Thank you to The Grief Toolbox Facebook family who helped contribute to this list. Joan Campbell, Pam Manning McCutcheon, Debra Balasky Taylor, Cheryl Ferrell, Anette Posthumus, Michelle VanRheenen Westerholm Randi Grayston, Karin Bellows, Cynthia Thompson Gossman ‎

About the Author

Tanya Lord was a special education teacher when Noah died. After his death she read The Institute of Medicine’s report To Err Is Human and realized that the errors responsible for her son’s death were not unique. This created a desire and determination to better understand and work towards improving health care. Currently she has completed a master’s degree in public health and a PhD in clinical and population health research and is completing a post-doctoral fellowship. Lord shares her personal and professional experiences in presentations and workshops for medical staff and students focusing on the importance of effective communication with patients before and after an error. She also is a co-founder of The Grief Toolbox (www.thegrieftoolbox.com), which offers tools to help those along the grief journey. Lord may be contacted at [email protected]

Helping The Bereaved