Supporting the bereaved

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

  • a good ear
  • time to really listen
  • a hug where appropriate
  • continuing contact through visits, phone calls, emails or letters
  • acknowledge that the person has died, use his or her name, and let the person talk about him or her if they wish

What Can Help Bereaved Persons?

The following suggestions have been found to help bereaved people:

  • 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 their behaviour i.e. crying, screaming, being quiet, 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, 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, a trusted GP.

What May Not Be Helpful To Bereaved Persons?

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

  • while it is good to talk about the person who has died, it is important to assess whether the bereaved person is comfortable about that
  • 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.

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Page last updated: 12 November, 2019