How to Help a Loved One through Grief or Bereavement

holding hands of elderly grieving personIt’s never easy to watch someone you love suffer. For people experiencing grief, help is often hard to find. Some people avoid grieving loved ones because they don’t know what to say or do. You don’t have to be an expert on grief to help, though. Simply reaching out is often all it takes to help a loved one weather the storm of mourning.

Acknowledge the Grief

You might worry that bringing up the source of the grief will only make your loved one sadder. But for a grieving person, the source of the grief is omnipresent, and if you ignore his or her grief, it can seem like you don’t care. Don’t force your friend to talk about it, but do ask how he or she is doing. When your loved one is ready to talk, be prepared to provide a supportive, nonjudgmental ear.

Provide an Outlet or Distraction

If you’re not sure of what to say, plan an outing instead. Grieving people can feel isolated and alone, and often don’t have enough energy to plan outings on their own. This, of course, leads to further isolation, which can make the grief worse. Steer clear of outings that require a lot of energy, such as fancy dinners. Instead, try something easy like a coffee date or walk around the block. If your loved one can’t muster the energy to go out, go to him or her instead with a movie, a takeout dinner, or a comforting mug of tea.

Encourage Seeking Help

Feeling devastated in the face of a loss is normal. Abandoning all responsibilities, experiencing thoughts of suicide, or grief that is severe and lasts for months, though, can signal an underlying mental health concern. If you’re concerned about the way a loved one is coping with his or her grief, encourage them to talk to a therapist or call a hotline. If your loved one gives you permission, you might even make the appointment for them or go with them to the first meeting.

Don’t Push Your Own Opinions

Everyone grieves differently, and trying to argue someone out of grief is a losing proposition. Never minimize the loss or tell your loved one that she or he should be over it by now. There’s no “right” way to grieve, and it’s easy to judge grief from the outside. But when someone they love judges them, it typically only makes a grieving person’s pain worse. It also means your loved one is unlikely to call you if she or he needs help.

Help Your Loved One Make Good Choices

Some people experiencing grief turn to drugs, alcohol, excessive dieting, or dangerous risk-taking to numb their feelings. Help your loved one make good choices by encouraging healthy eating and a regular schedule. If you’re concerned about a grieving person’s lifestyle, tell them so, and be prepared to offer help in achieving a better life. You might, for example, bring your loved one a healthy meal, tell him or her to call you when a craving for drugs or alcohol strikes, or encourage him or her to attend a 12-step meeting or support group.

Grief can be challenging, and the pain of a loss can linger for a long time. With sensitive care and a supportive environment, though, your loved one can get back to normal, even if the grief seems impossible to bear right now.


  1. Helping others cope with grief [PDF]. (2001). Sheldon: LifeCare, Inc.
  2. McMullen, L. (2013, August 7). 7 ways to help a loved one grieve. Retrieved from

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Norwood

    May 19th, 2014 at 3:42 AM

    Simply being there to help them through the grief is sometimes the only thing that you can do that will make a real difference to someone. You can’t process the grief for them or somehow make it better other than being that friend they can rely on and that shoulder that they can lean on when they need it. I agree in that you don’t necessarily have to have an opinion about anything while they are experiencing this grief and pain, they don’t need that. But what they do probably need is someone that they can call on night or day when they do need a helping hand, and if they are your true friend then you can be that for them.

  • Sheree

    May 19th, 2014 at 2:25 PM

    The hardest part is when you want to help and you know that someone needs it but they are not yet convinced that they want to even ask or receive any kind of help. Maybe that makes the situation all too real and there is a finality that you have to accept when you start letting others in and doing things to help you through this period. It can be a true challenge to navigate this, especially when the person with whom you want to reach out is being a little obstinate and refuses to accept what you are giving. It all takes time and eventually they will see that they need to let people in, but you know that this is a process and it wonb’t work until they are ready and get to that point on their own.

  • evan

    May 20th, 2014 at 3:45 AM

    I do agree with all of these things, but don’t you feel like there also has to be some part of you who is there encouraging them to move on when it seems that they can’t get beyond the loss?

  • Clara

    May 21st, 2014 at 8:27 AM

    If we are talking about grown ups, then how am I supposed to insist that they make healthy choices?

    Of course I don’t want anyone to feel like the only outlet that they have for their grief is to drink or do drugs for example. But if they are feeling that this is what they need to have to cope, then if they are not ready for help, how do I enocourage that this may not be the best decison for them?

    I am really torn because I know that any of us would wnat to do whatever we could to lessen the pain of someone that we loved who was in need, but at the same time most of these people are adults and may actually pull further away from us if we try to step in and do too much.

  • Ramsey

    May 22nd, 2014 at 3:44 AM

    You can’t judge anyone and tell them that they should be feeling one thing or doing this differently. Most people are probably just doing the best that they can to get up out of bed every day and put one foot in front of the other. Be a supporter, not a drainer.

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