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Helping the bereaved

Everyone Grieves Differently


Even when you are close to someone, you cannot predict or assume how they will cope with a bereavement. Be compassionate, intuitive and sensitive to their feelings. Understand that a grieving person may behave irrationally, lash out and say hurtful things.

Know that this is due to the pain they are feeling. The best you can do is just be there as a listening ear. Never undermine or trivialize any loss, ever.

A person can only “move on” when they have gone through the stages from loss to acceptance.

“I don’t know what to say”

The bereaved person knows, understands and appreciates that no one knows what to say. A simple acknowledgement is a good start. A sincere, “I’m sorry for your loss” is better than saying nothing.

Give the bereaved person time and space to heal. Let them know that you are there for them.

If a family or group is grieving, they are often unable to support each other, as each is dealing with their own pain. Support is best from someone who is not as closely involved or mourning the deceased to as deep a level.


Please avoid typical faux pas: disbelief, carrying on in denial (ignoring the bereavement), inducing guilt (“you allowed her to drink too much”), blaming (he never should have ridden a motorcycle”), taking out anger on anyone, including God.

Don’t ask them to stop crying. Even if you feel uncomfortable, please do not show this or say it. This is not about you and your discomfort of the situation. Rejecting a person for their tears is possibly the most harmful thing you can do.

Don’t change the subject. Don’t talk about your own bereavements. Don’t recite some cliche (like “time heals”, or “at least they are no longer in pain”. Don’t give an opinion. Just listen.

Be willing

Be willing to listen to them talk about their loss, over and over. There is no need to comment or interject. Just allow them to freely speak, reminisce, and work through their feelings.

Give them time and space to dwell on their grief.

Cook them a meal (one that can be frozen, since they may not eat it straight away). Handle chores or run errands on their behalf.

Whatever ritual they need to carry out in order to process their feelings (even if it is out of character, such as religious ceremony when you have always known them to be atheist), be completely supportive of them.

Support and encourage them to find professional bereavement counseling when they feel ready. Often the best support is from peers who are strangers that have gone through a similar loss.

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