Be Aware: Grief work is a natural and necessary process

Be There: Grief is not a problem to be solved, but a process to be experienced.

Be Sensitive: Learn to allow the pain rather than to remove it.

Be Human: Allow expression of feelings–guilt, anger, sorrow, depression–without judgment.

Be Ready: Listen attentively when the story is told again and again.

Be Patient: The process of mourning takes time.

When a person is grieving and we do not know the right thing to say or do, we may end up doing nothing. The following are some specific suggestions to consider when helping a grieving person.

Common Mistakes

Don’t take it so hard

It only makes a bereaved person feel worse to hear, Be strong: don’t take it so hard. This sounds as though the loss is insignificant and deprives the person of the natural emotions of grief. Taking an honest attitude of I know this is tough to go through, gives the bereaved a chance to express and thus recover from grief.

The Diversionary Tactic

Many people calling on the bereaved purposely veer away from the subject of death and talk about football, fishing, the weather–anything but the reason for their call or visit. This attempt to camouflage death ignores the task of the mourner–facing the fact of death and going on from there. It would be far better to sit silently and say nothing than to make obvious attempts to distract. The grieving person can see through efforts to divert and reality hits all the harder when the diversion is absent.

Let’s not talk about it

Well-meaning people often use this method of not mentioning the deceased, but the implication is the subject is too terrible to discuss politely. It is more helpful to evoke memories of the deceased in the fullness of life and to recreate a living picture to replace the picture of death.

I don’t want to make you cry.

Tears are a healthy expression of grief. Helping someone cry, being there with a shoulder to cry on is one of the most healing things one person can do for another. The repression of grief hampers growth.



Grieving people need to talk. Rather than worry about saying the right thing, concentrate upon warm, non-judgmental listening. Though the bereaved may want to repeat the same things a dozen times, these feelings need repetition to be dispelled. If the grieving person has said one hundred words to the listener’s one, then the listener has helped.


It is natural for a bereaved person to have feelings of guilt about the deceased, and these feelings require ventilation as much as feeling of sorrow. Reassurance will help the bereaved come to the realization he or she has done the best that could be done.

Reach Out–Keep in Touch

A person who has lost a loved one is often overwhelmed with visitors for a week or two; then the house is empty. Even good friends stay away believing people in sorrow like to be alone. This is the silent treatment: to the bereaved person, it feels like abandonment, and there is nothing worse. Not only is the bereaved feeling the loss of the loved one, but of friends a swell. Friends, people who will listen non-judgmentally, are needed most when all of the sympathy letters have been read and acknowledged and when others have gone back to their daily routines.
Someone being there for the bereaved is proof of continued meaning and purpose in life.

Do Something Real

Small things make a big difference in showing someone you care. One tangible and practical act of kindness–running an errand, taking children to school, bringing in a meal, picking up the mail, helping to acknowledge notes–can make an immense impact on the well-being of the bereaved.

Help Build a Bridge to the Future

People in grief often withdraw. Help build a bridge to the future: encourage a renewal of past activities and hobbies, offer rides to meetings, be a gentle reminder of activities enjoyed in the past.

Encourage New Beginnings

Grief will run its natural course. Avoiding the trap of self-pity sometimes can be accomplished by taking up a new activity or pursuing a new interest. Grief is resolved when the bereaved becomes self reliant and begins doing things for others.

Copyright North Central Florida Hospice, Inc. 1996

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