It’s hard to see a friend go through the pain of losing someone. It can be difficult to know what to say or do to help them. Here are a few things you can do to offer your support.
Reach out to them
If you’re helping someone through grief the first step is to get in touch and let them know you’re thinking of them. This can be harder than it sounds. Death is a sensitive subject that’s tough to talk about – especially when the person you’re talking to has been affected by it.
Try not to worry about this. Grief can make people feel lonely and isolated – and if you avoid contacting the grieving person, it can make these feelings worse. Your friend will probably appreciate that you’ve made the effort to get in touch.
Bear in mind that grief affects everyone differently, though. Some people need lots of space to make sense of their loss, while others want to spend time with friends and talk about their feelings. So the best thing to do is let your friend decide how much contact they’re comfortable with.
You could start with a text message, just to let them know they’re in your thoughts. Sign off with something like, ‘I’m here when you’re ready to talk.’ That way they can reach out to you when they feel ready.
Don’t insist on face-to-face contact either. Some people are more comfortable texting or talking on the phone to start with.
Offer practical support
Grief can make it harder to carry out everyday tasks like cooking and cleaning. Your friend might appreciate it if you offer to help with some of these little jobs.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Offer to help with housework
- Deliver some cooked food or ready meals
- Take their children to and from school
- Do some grocery shopping
- Help with a bit of gardening
Remember to give them space and let them decide whether to accept your help. Don’t be afraid to ask – but make it clear that it’s an offer and you won’t be offended if they say no. You don’t want to pressure them or make them feel guilty for wanting to be alone.
Listen to their feelings
When your friend is ready to talk, be a good listener. Try not to talk about yourself or say ‘I know how your feel’. They’re going through a deeply painful and personal experience, so saying this probably won’t help.
Instead, let them speak. Acknowledge their pain, but don’t worry about offering opinions or solutions. For many people, talking about their feelings is an important part of the healing process. Just being there to listen can be a great help.
It’s tempting to offer reassurance by saying things like ‘be strong’ or ‘at least they’re in a better place’. You might have good intentions, but these phrases are likely to sound empty or pointless to someone who’s dealing with the painful reality of grief.
Help them find bereavement support charities
Offering personal support is a good first step when you’re helping a friend through grief. But sometimes grieving people want to talk to someone who’s not a close friend or family member. So it’s important your friend knows there are other places where they can get help if they need it.
In the UK there are many bereavement charities that provide free support to people who are grieving. Here are a few you could recommend to your friend:
- Cruse Bereavement Support offers free bereavement support to anyone who needs it. Support is available online, over the phone and in person.
- GriefShare has support groups throughout the UK for people who want to talk about their loss with other people who are grieving.
- The Good Grief Trust runs online sessions for people to talk about their grief in groups. There are special sessions for LGBTQ people.
- Samaritans provides confidential, non-judgemental support for anyone who is in crisis. Its freephone service is available 24 hours a day, all year round.
There are also charities that provide support for people in certain circumstances, such as those who have lost someone to cancer. For more information, see our list of bereavement charities in the UK.
What if nothing seems to help?
Grief takes time to process. But if your friend feels like they can’t cope or they’re worried about their mental health, it’s important that they get professional help.
Encourage them to book an appointment with their doctor, who can help them find the support they need. They could also visit the NHS website, which has useful information about dealing with grief and getting the right kind of therapy or treatment.
If your friend has hurt themself or you feel they need immediate help, call 999.