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Supporting the bereaved

Sometimes it can be difficult to know how to support someone who has experienced the death of someone close to them. There are things that you can do. The simplest of these are to offer:

  • a supportive ear
  • time to listen
  • a hug where appropriate
  • contact through visits, phone calls, emails or letters
  • acknowledgement that the person has died while continuing to use their name and letting the person talk about them if they wish to do so

What Can Help People Who Are Bereaved?

The following suggestions have been found to help people grieving the loss of someone close:

  • contact the person as soon as you hear of the death. Tell them you are sorry to hear of their loss, or send a card or flowers
  • maintain contact personally or by telephone, notes, cards. Visits need not be long
  • LISTEN: This is possibly the most important thing you can do
  • accept the bereaved person’s behaviour whether that be crying, screaming, being quiet or laughing. Allow expressions of anger, guilt, and blame
  • offer practical help, such as bringing in a cooked meal, taking care of the children, cutting the grass or shopping
  • indicate that grief takes time
  • include children in the grieving process
  • be sensitive about dates that might be upsetting or significant for the bereaved person, such as religious feasts, anniversaries, birthdays, Mother’s/Father’s Day, etc.

If there are concerns about the health of the bereaved person, either physical or emotional, it could be helpful to encourage them to seek professional help, for example from a trusted GP.

What May Not Be Helpful To People who are Bereaved?

There are also things that bereaved persons have told us are not helpful. These include:

  • talking about the person who has died if the bereaved person feels uncomfortable with this
  • inhibiting them by offering advice
  • stopping contact with the person if the “going gets too heavy”
  • lectures or reasoning
  • expecting or judging how they should be feeling or behaving
  • using clichés such as “time heals all wounds”
  • false reassurance
  • saying “I know how you feel”
  • trying to do everything for them
  • comparing one loss to another
  • describing the theory of grief
  • taking the focus away from what they are saying
  • equating a loss you have experienced to this loss
  • giving details of your grief, unless the bereaved person finds this relevant to their situation

The most important thing you can do is to really try to understand and accept the person in their time of grief. Everyone is different.

Other Resources

Beyond Blue

provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live.

Page last updated: 12 November, 2019