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Supporting someone who is grieving

The needs of a person who is grieving are often quite simple.

They may need:

  • emotional support - such as someone to listen to them or keep them company
  • practical help - such as someone to make phone calls or pick up their children from school

The person may be unsure how to ask for support. You can let them know that help and support is available in different ways.

Supporting someone after a death

You do not need special skills or training to be supportive. Often the best help you can offer someone who is grieving is your company and to listen to them.

There are practical things you can do to support someone after a death:

  • go to the removal or funeral if you can and it is appropriate
  • contact the person - a note or a phone call to give your condolences and mention fond memories of the person who died can be comforting
  • make a brief visit or video call
  • offer specific, practical help such as answering the phone or picking up children from school

Do not avoid a bereaved person out of embarrassment or fear of upsetting them or intruding.

Do not assume that a person can cope better with death because they are older or have been through grief before.

What you can do if you are worried about someone else's mental health

Supporting a child who is grieving

What to say to someone who is grieving

No words can take away the pain of a loss. But you can give someone your sympathy in a simple way. For example, you can say ‘I’m so sorry’ or ‘you are in my thoughts’.

Avoid saying things such as ‘it was for the best’ or ‘life goes on’. Try not to tell the person that you know how they feel. You can never know how someone else feels.

You may remember your own losses when you talk to a person who is grieving. But try not to talk about them or other people’s losses. It is rarely helpful.

Supporting someone over time

Many people feel shock after a loss or bereavement then appear to be coping well as life goes on. But often the full force of what happened does not hit them until weeks or months later.

Everyday tasks such as working, shopping or paying bills can become very difficult. At this time, people who were supportive at the time of the death may stop calling as much.

There are things you can do to support someone over time:

  • make specific offers of help such as cooking dinner, cutting the grass or going for a walk - people who are grieving may find it hard to ask for help
  • ask them how you can help - do not assume that they are ‘over it’ or they have enough help
  • talk about the person who has died - avoiding the subject does not keep grief away
  • give them space to make their own decisions - do not offer advice on how they should feel, act or get on with their lives
  • try to remember special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries
  • let them know how they can reach out for help - for example video calls or online supports, they may be unsure about what they can ask for

Supporting a person who is grieving can be difficult. Know your limits and only offer to do what you can reasonably do.

Do not feel offended if the person refuses your offer of help or prefers to get help from someone else.

Find a list of organisations that provide support for bereavement and loss

Coping with grief after bereavement or loss

Page last reviewed: 1 September 2022
Next review due: 1 September 2025