How to Help Others


Almost everyone worries about what to say to people who are grieving. But knowing how to listen is much more important. You don't have to fill up periods of silence with words that you feel might rationalize their loss. Let them express what they are feeling whether it's anger, if they have questions, the pain, disbelief, or any guilt they may be experiencing. Oftentimes, well-meaning people avoid talking about the death or mentioning the deceased person. However, the grieving need to feel that their loss is acknowledged, it's not too terrible to talk about, and their loved one won't be forgotten.

While you should never try to force someone to open up, it's important to let the griever know they have permission to talk about the loss. Talk candidly about the person who died and don't steer away from the subject if the deceased's name comes up. When it seems appropriate, ask sensitive questions – without being nosy – that invites the grieving person to openly express his or her feelings. Try simply asking, "Do you feel like talking?"

  • Accept and acknowledge all feelings. Let the grieving person know that it's okay to cry in front of you, to get angry, or to break down. Don't try to reason with them over how they should or shouldn't feel. The griever should feel free to express their feelings, without fear of judgment, argument, or criticism. Remember, everyone grieves differently...on different time tables and everyone's grief and experiences are unique.

  • Be willing to sit in silence. Don't press if the grieving person doesn't feel like talking. You can offer comfort and support with your silent presence. All that is necessary is a squeeze of the hand, a kiss, a hug, your presence. If you want to say something, say, "I'm sorry" or "I care".

  • Let the griever talk about how their loved one died or their story of loss. People who are grieving may need to tell the story over and over again, sometimes in minute detail. Be patient. Repeating the story is usually, a way of processing and accepting their new reality.

  • Offer comfort and reassurance without minimizing the loss. Tell the griever that what they're feeling is okay. If you've gone through a similar loss, share your own experience if you think it would help. However, don't give unsolicited advice, claim to "know" what the person is feeling, or compare your grief to theirs. I have heard of people telling someone, "I know how you feel losing your grandmother, my cat just died." Yes, they are both losses, but hardly the same and this definitely, will not make a grieving person feel better!

  • Don't be afraid to cry openly if you were close to the deceased. Often the grieving find themselves comforting you, but at the same time they understand your tears and don't feel so alone in their grief. When there is a divorce, it not only affects the immediate family, but also friends and extended family. There is a ripple effect in the loss and many may be grieving a loss associated with a divorce.

  • The griever may ask "WHY?" It is often a cry of pain rather than a question. It is not necessary to answer, but if you do, you may reply "I don't know why." It's better to not say anything that to give pat, cliche answers!

  • Recognize that the griever may be angry. They may be angry at God, the person who died, the person that left, the clergy, doctors, rescue teams, other family members, etc. Encourage them to acknowledge their anger and to find healthy ways of handling it.

  • It is not helpful to tell someone that is going through a divorce that you never thought that person was right for them, that you knew they shouldn't have married that person, that you think they are crazy to still have feelings for their spouse after how badly they've been treated, that you would never have let anybody treat you as poorly as they were treated. These things will only make a person feel worse and make them retreat more into themselves.

  • Be aware that a grieving person's self-esteem may be very low.

  • When someone feels guilt and is filled with "if onlys", it is not helpful to say, "Don't feel guilt." This only adds to their negative view of themselves. They would handle it better if they could. One response could be, "I don't think that you are guilty. You did the best you could at the time, but don't push down your feelings of guilt. Talk about it until you can let it go.

  • Depression is often part of grief. It is a scary feeling. To be able to talk things over with an understanding friend or loved one is one factor that may help prevent a person from becoming severely depressed

  • Give special attention to the children in the family. DO NOT tell them not to cry or not to upset the adults.

  • Be aware of the physical reactions to the death or divorce or loss (lack of appetite, sleeplessness, headaches, inability to concentrate). These affect the person's coping ability, energy and recovery.

  • Encourage counseling if grief is getting out of hand.

  • Suggest that the griever postpone major decisions such as moving, giving everything away, etc. Later they may regret their hasty decisions. It is best for the griever to keep decision making to a minimum if at all possible.

  • Be aware that weekends, holidays and evenings may be more difficult.

  • Consider sending a note at the time of their loved one's birthday, anniversary, death, or other special day, if it is for someone that has experienced death. (For a divorced person, their wedding anniversary, the day the divorce is final, the day their spouse left may be hard days). Better yet, take them out and do something with them on these dates. To be alone on these days can be overwhelming. To be included with others on Father's Day, Christmas etc., helps them to feel not so isolated. If the griever is now a single parent, help the children get them presents for Mother's Day/Father's Day/Christmas. A person misses those things and it makes the children happy to be able to give gifts to their parent. Another date you might consider remembering someone dealing with loss, is on Valentine's Day. This can be an incredibly depressing, lonely day as a person becomes acutely aware of their loss and how they are now alone.

  • Don't avoid the griever. This adds to their loss. As the widowed often say, "I not only lost my spouse, but my friend as well." Many people have told me how their grief has been compounded by people staying away, simply because they did not know what to say to the griever. Also, don't assume that they are being taken care of by others and you will be just in the way or imposing. Usually, after a number of months pass, the support dwindles. Email, cards, letters, phone messages, charitable donations are appropriate ways to let the the person know you are thinking of them. 

  • If a family is having to move as a result of their loss, go and help them pack, clean, move, prepare their new place etc. Go with them on moving day. Help them unpack and organize their new place. I can tell you from experience, when you are forced to move and it is not of your choosing, it is incredibly depressing. That first night in our new place, my son and I both cried ourselves to sleep. The fact that we moved to a fixer upper did not help. We looked around us and felt our loss and missed our beautiful home we had moved from. If you know someone is moving into a fixer upper, get a team together and go in and help the family in need. A move and fixing things up is difficult by itself. To do it while you are depressed and grieving just makes the task that much more difficult and overwhelming.

Comments To Avoid When Comforting The Grieving (click here to go to list)

Offer Practical Assistance

It is difficult for many grieving people to ask for help. They might feel guilty about receiving so much attention, fear being a burden, or be too depressed to reach out. You can make it easier for them by making specific suggestions – such as, "I'm going to the market this afternoon. What can I bring you from there?" or "I've made chicken for dinner. When can I come by and bring you some?" Sometimes, money might be an issue for someone newly divorced, separated or widowed and they might not want you to know they are hurting financially. You might want to pick up some staple items at the grocery store and drop them off at their house. If you're not sure what to get, send a gift card in the mail for a grocery store, gas station, fast food, restaurant, movie theater etc. For a single parent, to be able to get out and do something with their children, can be just what they need, and maybe they couldn't otherwise afford it!

Consistency is very helpful, if you can manage it – being there for as long as it takes. This helps the grieving person look forward to your attentiveness without having to make the additional effort of asking again and again. You can also convey an open invitation by saying, "Let me know what I can do," which may make a grieving person feel more comfortable about asking for help. But keep in mind that the griever may not have the energy or motivation to call you when they need something, so it's better if you take the initiative to check in.

Be an encourager. As you see them making progress in their recovery, tell the griever you are proud of them. Tell them you know how much they are having to overcome, that you can see the progress they are making. Continually remind them that they are in your thoughts and prayers. Call them frequently, send notes and cards of encouragement etc. Let them feel your love and encouragement in tangible ways. Don't just do this in the first few weeks. More than likely they will need support for months and possibly years, as they try to re-establish their lives and learn to adapt to all the changes that their losses have made in their life.

Be The One Who Takes The Initiative

There are many practical ways you can help a grieving person. You can offer to:

  • Shop for groceries or run errands
  • Drop off a casserole or other type of food
  • Help with funeral arrangements
  • Stay in their home to take phone calls and receive guests
  • Help with insurance forms or bills
  • Take care of housework, such as cleaning or laundry
  • Watch their children or pick them up from school or take the children on an outing
  • Drive them wherever they need to go
  • Look after their pets
  • Go with them to a support group meeting
  • Accompany them on a walk
  • Take them to lunch or a movie
  • Share an enjoyable activity (game, puzzle, art project)
  • For a woman that is suddenly on their own, they might have car or home repairs that are needed and perhaps they can't take care of it themselves. Perhaps they don't have the money to take care of it. See if there is a tangible need that you can help with in this area. Sometimes they might feel hesitant to accept your offers, they might feel they have nothing to offer in return. Let them know that you want to help them because you care and love them. Alleviate any guilt they might have from accepting your offer! Tell them you know if the roles were reversed that they would do the same for you. This one always worked on me..."Don't rob me of my blessing". How can anyone say "no" to that!

  • If you see they need their grass mowed or weeding etc., just take care of it for them.

Ways to Support Grievers During the Holidays

Not only are they trying to cope with intense feelings of grief, but they are also struggling with the stress and pressure of the holiday season. They might be struggling with depression if their financial situation has changed drastically from their previous holidays and they are unable to provide for their children.

1. Write a note in your holiday card recognizing the holidays will be difficult without their loved one this year. Just this simple acknowledgment provides support. Others may be telling the griever to get on with their life, or suggesting that since it's the holidays, they can't be depressed. Recognizing the loss is validating and validation provides support.

2. Support the choices the griever is making in regard to changing holiday tradition. Many people find it too painful to participate in certain parts of the holiday ritual. Making changes in how they will celebrate allows them to honor the holiday and celebrate it in a way that does not feel like salt is being rubbed in their wound. It can be hard to go to family functions when every one is joyful and happy when that is not how they are feeling. It also might be stressful if there are gift exchanges and they are not able to participate in that in the way they once were. They might be feeling their losses in many different ways.

3. Send a gift in honor of the loved one the family is grieving. A remembrance album or a memorial garden kit are two thoughtful suggestions. A gift in honor of the deceased provides family and friends with a comfortable setting to reminisce and honor the memories of their loved one.

4. Be available to listen. So many grieving people need the opportunity to talk as well as be heard. If you are a good listener you have an excellent gift to share with a grieving person

5. Offer to go with the griever to holiday functions. Having someone available to talk to or make faces at across the room can make many holiday gatherings easier. Remember to be available to leave early if the grieving person finds she just can't take any more and needs to leave.

6. Our first Christmas alone, my son, who was eleven at the time, said to me "Mom, I don't care if I don't get any presents, I just want people to come to our house and it be like Christmas here." We were used to having people over during the holidays and it being a festive time. We were now living far from our friends and family with no kids in our new neighborhood. We had not been in our new location long enough to have made new friends. It broke my heart when my son said these words. Members from my mother's church, made an hour drive to come bring my son presents, to sing us Christmas carols and to share Christmas cookies with us. Another friend, who doesn't even normally celebrate Christmas, came and spent Christmas Eve with us so that my son would have someone to share Christmas morning with. I will forever be grateful for these acts of kindness!! Please take time out of your busy schedule during the holidays to think of families that have been affected by loss and see what you can do to make their holidays brighter and less lonely as they feel their loss in multiple ways.

Watch For Warning Signs

It's common for a grieving person to feel depressed, confused, disconnected from others, or like they're going crazy. But if the grieving person's symptoms don't gradually start to fade – or they get worse with time – this may be a sign that normal grief has evolved into a more serious problem, such as clinical depression.

Encourage the grieving person to seek professional help if you observe any of the following warning signs after the initial grieving period – especially if it's been months since the death.


  • Difficulty functioning in daily life
  • Extreme focus on the death, divorce or loss
  • Excessive bitterness, anger, or guilt
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Talking about dying or suicide
  • Constant feelings of hopelessness
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Hallucinations
  • Inability to enjoy life


It can be tricky to bring up your concerns to the grieving person. You don't want to be perceived as intrusive. Instead of telling the person what to do, try stating your own feelings: "I am troubled by the fact that you aren't sleeping – perhaps you should look into getting help."

A suicidal person may not ask for help, but that doesn't mean that help isn't wanted. Most people who commit suicide don't want to die - they just want to stop hurting. Suicide prevention starts with recognizing the warning signs and taking them seriously.

If you think a friend or family member is considering suicide, you might be afraid to bring up the subject. But talking openly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a life. Speak up if you're concerned and seek professional help immediately! Through understanding, reassurance, and support, you can help your loved one overcome thoughts of suicide.

Common Misconceptions about Suicide

FALSE: People who talk about suicide won't really do it. 
Almost everyone who commits or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like "you'll be sorry when I'm dead," "I can't see any way out," -- no matter how casually or jokingly said may indicate serious suicidal feelings.

FALSE: Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy. 
Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They must be upset, grief-stricken, depressed or despairing, but extreme distress and emotional pain are not necessarily signs of mental illness. They may just have more coping skills and do not know how to handle their grief.

FALSE: If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop him/her. 
Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, wavering until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to die. Most suicidal people do not want death; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.

FALSE: People who commit suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help . 
Studies of suicide victims have shown that more then half had sought medical help within six month before their deaths.

FALSE: Talking about suicide may give someone the idea. 
You don't give a suicidal person morbid ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true --bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.


We must never minimize the suffering of another. Scripture's mandate to us is, "Weep with them that weep." (Romans 12:15, KJV) Billy Graham



Here is a great video about helping someone that is grieving