It can be very difficult to know what to say or do when someone you know is grieving. You might worry that you are being intrusive, or are saying the wrong thing. However it is better to stay in contact than not say anything at all.
Staying in touch
People grieve in different ways, so it’s important not to assume someone is fine if they don’t ask for support. Make an effort to check in with them, especially in the weeks and months after a funeral, as these can be some of the most difficult and lonely times – they might feel that other people have moved on while they are still grieving.
The following things can help you stay in touch:
- It might be difficult for a grieving person to ask for help when they're already feeling vulnerable. Let them know you're there for them by offering to help with specific, practical things, for example walking the dog, helping with the garden or watching their child. As well as possibly needing this type of help, these might be easier to accept than offering to talk about feelings. Be patient if they reject this at first. Try again later, and keep reminding them you are there for when they need you.
- Invite them to join in with social activities, or do something together like watch a film or go for a walk. Be understanding if they don't want to, but continue to offer as this might change and they might appreciate that you asked.
- Some people find it helpful to do things that remind them of the person that has died, or to “celebrate” their life. This could be anything from holding a memorial to visiting a special place or looking through old pictures together.
- When people grieve they might also need space. Be careful not to smother them, and give them space and time to express themselves.
- The intensity of grief can make people’s moods change suddenly. Bereaved people experience lots of difficult emotions and sometimes it can be hard to be around them. Be patient, and don’t take anger or bad moods personally – these are unlikely to be directed at you.
- Certain times of year like birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas and New Year may be especially difficult. Make a note of these dates and keep in touch, with a phone call, by sending a card, or writing an email for example.
- There is no time limit on grieving. They might need to cry or talk about their loss for many months or years afterwards - be patient.
What to say to someone grieving
If you’re not sure what to say, you can wait for an invitation to talk. They might want to talk to you about the person who has died, even if it seems to make them upset. If they are not ready to talk, it can be helpful just to be with them.
These tips might help you when talking to someone who is grieving:
- Let them know they have the choice to talk or not talk. You could say something that isn’t too specific like, "I'm around all day if you fancy a chat..."
- Ask open-ended questions, or just listen. You don’t need to have answers to make them feel better.
- Be careful how you express your own experiences of grief. What worked for you might not be helpful to someone else.
- Don’t avoid talking about the person who has died, or act as if nothing has happened, as they might find it very painful if people act as though the person who died never existed.
Supporting someone when you are grieving too
If you are grieving at the same time as a family member, partner or friend, make sure you acknowledge your own feelings and give yourself time to grieve too. If you are worried about how you can support someone grieving while you are going through the same experience, these tips can help:
Be prepared for them to want to talk about what has happened, or what's worrying them, over and over again. This can be a way for them to come to terms with the death, but this might not be helpful for you. Be honest and suggest other outlets – if not people you know, bereavement support could be helpful.
On the other hand, if you are grieving over the same person it might be helpful for you to say kind things about them and talk about what they meant to you.
Acknowledge your sadness but be careful not to make conversations all about you, and how difficult you're finding it.
If at any point you find it difficult to manage how you feel, while supporting someone close to you as they grieve, there is bereavement support available. Visit our page on where to get bereavement support for information on where to find it.