There can be an overwhelming sense of helplessness when faced with how to best help a bereaved person. They are suffering because they have lost someone so close to them – how do you even begin to make a difference. Below are ten ways to support a grieving person:

1.           Be present and attentive to the bereaved person.
2.           Allow for moments of silence and reflection.
3.           Listen in a non-judgemental and accepting way.
4.           Avoid the use of clichés such as ‘Think of all the good times’, ‘You can always… (have another child, fall in love again…’, etc).
5.           Mention the deceased person’s name and encourage the bereaved person to talk about them.
6.           Offer practical and emotional support (e.g. by minding children or cooking a meal).
7.           Understand that tears are normal and healthy part of the grieving process.
8.           Don’t try to fill in conversations with a lot of outside news.
9.           Remember that grief may take years to work through.
10.        Acknowledge anniversaries and dates of significance for the bereaved person.
Five important tips supporting a grieving person

1. Understand your limits
It is important to understand that the death of a person and seeing the grief of others can trigger our own experiences of loss and make us think about losses that may occur to us in the future. These fears and anxieties limit our capacity to provide effective support. Before making promises of support, take a moment to consider what your commitment should and can be. Think of what might be needed, what you can offer and what constraints will affect your ability to follow through. You need to be fair to yourself and to the person who needs your support. You can then say, ‘Here’s what I’d like to do, if it would be helpful.’

2. Acknowledge the importance of the loss
You may be reluctant to speak about the loss; however, it is important to acknowledge it before you say anything else. Use the name of the deceased. Many people get comfort from hearing the name of someone they love live on: ‘I was very sad to hear of Frank’s death’. We can also acknowledge the importance of the loss by attending the funeral or with telephone calls, flowers, a sympathy pin, a note or card. Don’t overlook the importance of practical support such as child minding, mowing the lawn or providing a meal. Bereaved people find personal, spontaneous and genuine support especially comforting. Even brief contact is appreciated and remembered.

3. Your most valuable gifts are time and the ability to listen
An ancient expression says that ‘God gave us two ears and one mouth – and we should use them in those proportions’. Be available to listen. It is often our ability to let the person tell their story over and over again which helps them make sense of their loss. Talk about the person who died, remembering special qualities, stories or shared moments. Allow plenty of time to listen to the story – and then listen again. There are no words that can take the pain of loss away. Just being with and available to a grieving person may be the most helpful expression of care.

4. Be aware of the differences in the way people grieve
Just as we all have different preferences in food and music—grief is no different. We all have different safe places. Some grieve with others—family, friends, members of a support group—while other people grieve more privately and in less visible ways. Some will find comfort in activities such as keeping a journal or gardening, while others will connect with their pain alone—perhaps whilst driving, jogging or in the shower.

In general, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve. Just try to understand and accept the person. Many things influence how we grieve. It depends not only on the age of the person who died, but the relationship of the bereaved to the deceased, the circumstances of the death, their age, life experience, how much support the bereaved person has available to them, their beliefs and personality.

5. Be informed about supports available in the community
Grief takes time. Be available to the bereaved person on an ongoing basis and remember those anniversaries, birthdays, Father and Mother’s days and holidays such as Christmas, which can reawaken the grief and sadness for many bereaved people.