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How to support the bereaved

When someone you care about is grieving it is often difficult to know what to do or say to help them. It is important to know there are a few things you can do to make their lives less lonely and a little easier. While you can’t remove the suffering, there are many ways you can help them in a mental and practical sense.

So, why is it important to support someone who is grieving?

Often, those who are grieving, especially those who are recently bereaved, experience an intense loneliness and helplessness. When you have just lost someone, you tend to get an overwhelming amount of support, from your closest friends and even people who you haven’t heard from for decades, then soon after the funeral they start to get on with their lives as normality for them returns. Those few people who are left behind are the key support network that a grieving person needs to start making sense of life again.

Often, the difficult emotions that accompany grief put people off making conversation with someone who is grieving for fear of upsetting them or making them feel worse but don’t let the thought of discomfort prevent you from offering help to a friend in need. Now, more than ever, they need your support and the easiest thing you can do is just listen. Give them a safe place to share their emotions without fear of being judged or rushed. We have listed a few of the ways in which you can help someone who is grieving, from the smallest input, you can make a big difference:

  • Be there, even after the funeral – Don’t offer to support or help someone if you can’t make that commitment. Being there for someone can be via the phone, by letter, by email or even by calling round to see them. By doing this you are letting them know that they are not alone, that you are thinking of them and that they have a friend that they can rely on if they need to talk. Simply by saying “I have no idea what you are going through, but I’m here to listen” can really change perspective for the positive in the eyes of bereavement.
  • Understand grief – Knowing that there is no “normal” way to grieve is important. What one person has experienced will not be the same as what another person has. Remember there is no timescale on grief, it takes as long as it takes for the grieving person to adjust, and support though this time will be everlastingly evident in the future. Each day’s emotions could be drastically different, so it a good idea to prepare yourself for their rapidly changing moods.
  • Encourage conversation – Offer to be that open ear but only if you’re going to listen. We often hear stories of people offering their time to listen to the stories of the bereaved but disappearing after time. Keeping it simple by saying “I’m here if you need me, however you need me” meeting the grieving person half way and leaving the decision up to them instead of trying to offer help you think they might need.
  • Let them talk about it, then let them talk about it again – People who are grieving often need to keep repeating their story over and over. Whether that be the story about how they are feeling, or even how their loved one died. Listen, it’s the best thing you can do. Try not to compare your own experiences to theirs as at this moment in time, they cant really think about anything other than their story.
  • Offer practical help – Offer to help out with the weekly chores, picking up the children from school and cooking a meal are all great examples of ways in which you can help someone who is grieving. You could even ask the bereaved friend to write down onto sticky notes all of the jobs that they need doing and whenever they get a visitor round, they have to do a sticky note job. Grieving is exhausting, so any little thing you can do to relieve the pressures of day to day life, especially in the early days, can be helpful.
  • Remember special days – If you know that there is a special day coming up, such as a birthday or anniversary, acknowledge the day. Letting the grieving person know that you are thinking of them can help with the sense of loneliness that they may be feeling.
  • Share memories – When someone has died, sharing stories of them can offer great comfort for those left behind. Allowing happiness and even laughter can work wonders and no grieving person never wants to mention the person they lost ever again. You could collect up everyone’s favourite memories onto individual index cards to give to the family which they can look at when they are feeling particularly low.

After those suggestions of things to do, we thought we would share some pointers of things to avoid:

  • Avoid belittling their pain – Saying things like “It’s all a part of Gods plan”, “Look at what you have to be thankful for” and “They are in a better place now” aren’t helpful and can be particularly damaging, even isolating as the bereaved may feel like you don’t understand at all.
  • Avoid telling them to move on – Or even making them feel like they should be “ok” by now. Often, continuing with day to day life can be extremely difficult and will probably never be the same again. When you have lost someone, especially a significant someone, you don’t go back to living how you were before, you have to learn to live again.
  • Avoid giving advice – If you haven’t experienced a bereavement, you may feel like you are helping but telling someone “They must…” or “You will…” are too directive, as stated before, no one’s grief is the same. Try “You might…” instead as this has no forceful element.
  • Avoid offering help if you can’t fulfil your promise – This one is a repeat because it is important. Offering someone support can be like offering a lifeline to someone who is grieving. Try to only offer help if you have every intention of sticking it out in the long run. Grief has no timeline so can take many months, sometimes years, to get to a point where you are strong enough alone.
  • Don’t ignore warning signs – Sometimes when someone has lost someone they can start to show symptoms of depression. If these symptoms don’t gradually start to fade, or even get worse encourage that person to seek professional help.

If it has been over two months since the death and the following signs are getting worse, encourage them to seek professional help:

– Difficulty functioning in daily life

– Extreme focus on death and dying

– Excessive bitterness, anger or guilt

– Neglecting personal hygiene

– Alcohol or drug abuse

– Unable to enjoy life

– Hallucinations

– Withdrawn and closed off

– Constant feeling of hopelessness

– Talking about dying or suicide

It can be a difficult conversation to have, so approaching with sensitivity is a must. Instead of instructing them, why not express your concerns and offer a solution, “I’m worried that you’re not getting enough sleep, maybe you could look into getting some help”. Take talk of suicide seriously call 116 123. This is the Samaritans helpline which is open 24 hours a day 7 day a week.

It is important that regardless of when your grieving friend lost their loved one, that they feel supported now and in the future. Should you need any further support please call 01332 345268 or email