Helping Friends Through Grief
Grief is one of the most difficult emotions we’ll have to experience in our lifetimes. Grief can be confusing, exhausting, and difficult to understand. When someone you love is grieving a loss it can be difficult to know what to do and say to show your support for them. You might feel as though you’re doing too much or too little, or you might be afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing.
Everyone experiences and processes grief in a different way. We know that this may be confusing for you, as a friend of someone who is grieving. Some people might want to cope using humour, while others would prefer a shoulder to cry on. While there are no “right” or “wrong” ways to go about supporting your friend through grief, we’ve put together some helpful tips that will help make the process a little easier.
Don’t worry about knowing the exact right things to do and say. While you may not be able to completely and totally understand what your friend is going through, just showing up for them and showing that you care about them in simple ways will make all the difference.
Here’s what we will be covering in this guide:
- How to be there for your grieving friend
- How to ask a grieving friend how you can support them
- Listening to your grieving friend
- How to watch out for anxiety and depression in your grieving friend
- The importance of grief counselling
- Posting about someone’s death on social media
- Avoiding mentions of religion, minimising feelings, and toxic positivity
- The 5 stages of grief
- Helping your friend plan a funeral for their loved one
1. Be there for them
We know this may seem obvious, but there’s a reason why this is the most common advice for supporting someone who is grieving. While it may seem that your friend is constantly surrounded by people, remember that grief can make them feel very lonely. Telling and showing your friend that you’re there for them during this difficult time could help them feel less alone in their grief. Try to keep in mind that if you are telling your friend that you’ll be there for them, you should stay true to your word and show up when they need you.
Being there for them also needn’t mean you’re by their side every minute of every day. You can do small things to show them you care, like sending them supportive messages or calling from time to time. Most people feel the most supported when they know they have loved ones that they can depend on.
2. Allow your friend to grieve
We never want to see someone we love in pain, and our instincts may tell us that we need to try to take their pain away. However, grief is something that we can’t diminish or take away. Allowing your friend to grieve their loss, even though it may be very painful and sad, would be the best thing for them.
We understand that grief can be an uncomfortable emotion to experience and to witness someone you love experiencing it as well. It is completely normal to feel discomfort around talking about grief, and it can seem easy to avoid these feelings altogether. Avoiding the uncomfortable emotions that grief brings up would not be good for your friend in the long run. Instead of trying to distract them from their feelings, encourage them to talk it out (if they are ready to).
3. Ask what they need
Instead of trying to figure out what kind of support your friend may want or need, you can simply ask them! If you know your friend really well, you might be able to guess what kind of support they would want from you. But remember, everyone deals with grief in different ways. Your friend might deal with grief in totally unexpected ways than you would expect from them.
For example, a friend who normally has a very positive outlook and is emotionally strong might be very badly affected by the loss of their loved one.
Ask your friend how you can best support them during this difficult time, and give them options of what you can realistically help them with. This could be: picking their kids up from school, cleaning their house, cooking meals for their family, helping with funeral planning, or taking them out for a coffee.
4. Listen to them
Sometimes, all we really want is someone to listen. Your friend understandably will be going through a difficult time before and after losing their loved one. They may want to vent to you about their feelings, their family, or even things like hospital bills or legal issues.
If your friend specifically asks you for advice, then feel free to advise them appropriately. However, if they just want someone to listen to them vent or need a shoulder to cry on, simply being there for them and listening would do wonders.
5. Try not to put a positive spin on everything
It’s natural to want to see the positive side of everything, even loss and grief. You may think you’re helping your friend by putting a positive spin on what they’re going through, but the reality is that they might not be thinking in that way. Your friend might want to focus on the bad stuff right now, if that is what is helping them cope with their loss. Forcing your friend to see the silver linings may come across as dismissive of their feelings.
Take your friend’s lead when you talk to them. If it seems like they want to talk to you about the negative emotions they’re feeling, or want to complain or vent about how terrible everything is, then go along with them. If your friend tells you that everything feels horrible and bad right now, it’s because everything is horrible and bad for them, and they want you to understand and empathise with how they’re feeling.
6. Try not to minimise their feelings
Similarly to the point above, you may want to downplay the severity of your friend’s sadness and grief. You may have the best intentions when you do this. This might be because you don’t want to see your friend in pain. However, your friend might feel as though you are minimising their feelings, or that you don’t think that their feelings are valid and important.
Try to stay away from saying things like “it could be worse”, or “other people have it a lot worse than you do”. Stick to supportive phrases like “I understand how you feel. I’m here for you”, or “I know that this is a really difficult time for you. Let’s take it one day at a time.”
7. Watch out for changes in their behaviour or personality
Grief can affect people in many adverse ways such as loss of appetite, disrupted sleep, difficulty focusing, and mood swings. If you notice that your friend is experiencing any of these symptoms, then gently voice your concerns to them. You can also suggest some resources that could support their mental health, if they are open to it.
The days and weeks after someone dies can be very busy and stressful, and most people tend to lose sleep or experience a change in appetite or extreme emotions. This is normal, and most people will return to their regular schedule after a few weeks or months. However, if your friend is experiencing these symptoms over a long period of time, they may need some additional support. You know your friend best, so if any of these changes in their behaviour or personality seem concerning to you, you may want to have a chat to them about it.
8. Suggest they talk to a grief counsellor
Grief counselling is a form of therapy that helps you cope with loss and grief. A grief counsellor will help you with techniques to help you cope with the stages of grief and bereavement, and the emotions that come up during this process. Although you love your friend very much, the fact is that you may not have the training or know-how to help them deal with their grief as a professional therapist would.
Grief counsellors work with a diverse range of people from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds, religions, and cultures. You can find a grief counsellor that would understand your friend’s religious or cultural values. Always keep in mind to have a chat with your friend first, and ask them how they feel about talking to a grief counsellor before moving on to the next steps.
9. Try not to wait until it’s too late
Sometimes the grieving process may begin before a loved one dies. This might be because they have been terminally ill for a while, or have been nearing their final days due to their age. In this case, try not to wait until after your friend’s loved one has died before showing your support. Your friend may need the same level of support if their loved one is in hospital or hospice.
10. Steer clear from religious talk
Unless you know your friend is a religious or spiritual person, it would be best if you steered clear from speaking in religious terms. Phrases like “He/she has gone to a better place”, or “They are with God now” may not be received well if your friend is not religious, or follows a religion that teaches different beliefs regarding death and the afterlife. Similarly, referencing reincarnation to someone whose religion does not believe in reincarnation should be avoided.
11. Don’t post on social media unless you have consent
Nowadays we share nearly every aspect of our lives on social media. This includes major life events, and even the deaths of people that we know. This serves a practical purpose that were previously held by obituaries in newspapers - to inform our community that someone we know has died. However, it’s important to ask for consent from your friend before you post about the death of their loved one on social media. They may not want to be inundated by dozens of “tags” or messages, or see photos of their loved one on their social media pages. Try to be mindful of what you post. It’s always safer to ask your friend before posting anything, just in case.
12. Understand that they may change their mind
In the days and weeks that follow after a loved one dies, people will experience the five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Grief is a complicated emotion, and your friend will be experiencing many different emotions during this time. Try to keep in mind that your friend may change their mind about what kind of support, and how much support, they may need from you. Grief has no timeline or schedule, and your friend may need to grieve their loss for months or even years. What is important is that you’re there for your friend through this difficult time, and that they can depend on you.
Another way you can support your friend while they grieve would be to help them organise their loved one’s funeral plans, and other legal paperwork or administrative tasks that come up when someone dies. If funeral planning is something they are anxious about, you can help them with the Legacy of Lives free funeral planning tool.
Grief is one of the most complex and misunderstood emotions that we can experience in our lifetimes. Learning more about grief and the emotions that come with it can help you support your friend better, no matter what stage of grief they’re in. If you’re reading this page, you are already doing a great job at supporting your friend!
We hope that you found the information on this page useful and supportive.
We create resources that aim to break the stigma around talking about death and dying, funerals, and end-of-life services. We encourage you to talk to your loved ones about their funeral plans, and share your plans and wishes with them as well.
The Legacy of Lives team is here to guide and support you every step of the way. We understand that the days and weeks after a loved one’s death can be overwhelming and confusing. Especially so, if you don’t have access to important documents or information.
You can contact us via the chat box on our website or email us at: email@example.com
All of the resources and the free funeral planning tool on our website are free and easy to use.
Some helpful resources: