How Can You Help a Grieving Friend?

You want to help a grieving friend, but don’t know what to do. I understand your predicament because I’ve “been there.” Comforting a bereaved person can be a challenge. My husband and I learned what to do after we experienced multiple losses. We learned what works and what doesn’t. The most important thing we learned is that small gestures can provide immense comfort.

In 2007 our elder daughter (mother of our twin grandchildren), father-in-law, my brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father died in succession. We would start to feel better and then another family member would die. Still, we learned from our multiple losses, and these are our top tips for helping a grieving family member or friend.

Call before delivering food.  After my daughter died from the injuries she received in a car crash, many friends delivered food to the house. While the food was appreciated, the twins and their father worried about wasting food. The refrigerator was packed with food, and there so much on the counters that the kitchen resembled a grocery store. Before you deliver food, call and ask if food is needed.  

Be specific with offers. Grief is so stressful and confusing that you friend may not realize help is needed. Perhaps you’re going grocery shopping. Call or email your friend and say, “I’m going grocery shopping at 10:00 a.m. If you give me your list I’ll shop for you. I’ll deliver the groceries by noon.” You may offer to fill your friend’s car with gas, pick up dry cleaning, or run other errands.

Share grief resources. After our daughter died, church friends came by to deliver a book. “This was written by a local author and helped us,” the couple explained. “It may help you.” Sharing grief website addresses is another way to help. Make a printed list of these websites and give it to your friend. Add comments, too. For example, you may say “has articles, personal stories, and a chat room.”

Create a caring basket. The court appointed us as the twins’ guardians after their father died, and they moved in with us. Friends made a caring basket for our family, filled with gift cards for restaurants, sports stores, discount stores, clothing stores, and movie theaters. As time passed, we realized the gift cards gave the twins some control over lives that were out of control. I’ve shared the caring basket idea many times and, according to feedback, they were a huge success. Your basket may contain coffee, tea, homemade cookies, or a blank journal.

Give the gift of listening. Because you don’t want to upset your friend, you may be reluctant to say the deceased person’s name. But the opposite is true.  Bereaved people need to say their loved ones’ names and tell stories about them. Listening to a grieving friend may be the most helpful gift of all. Offer to meet your friend at a coffee shop and just listen. Set a date and time to get together for coffee again.

About the Author

Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for 35+ years. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Association for Death Education and Counseling, Minnesota Coalition for Death Education and Support, and World Speakers Association. Hodgson is a Forum Moderator/Writer for and author of eight grief resources.

Helping The Bereaved