5 Tips for Helping a Grieving Friend

If your friend is grieving a death or loss, it can be hard to know what to say. These tips for helping a grieving friend are from Jane Galbraith, who wrote a book about facing and surviving grief.

She explains why talking about the loved one your friend lost is so important:

“Who hasn’t felt like they don’t know what to say when someone has died?” asks Galbraith. “Or we feel helpless, like there’s nothing we can do to help a grieving friend. But there ARE things we can do and say to help those who are suffering after the death of a loved one.”

For more information on baby boomers and grief, read Galbraith’s book Baby Boomers Face Grief: Survival and Recovery.

And, here are her five tips for supporting mourning friends…

Talk about the person who has died

We may not want to mention the loved one who died to grieving friends because we don’t want to upset them. But, people love to speak the name of the person they lost! To not talk about them as if they have never existed is very distressing to your friend who is grieving. Speaking about lost loved ones may produce tears, but it’s often more comforting than feeling that the name can never be mentioned. So, when your friend loses a loved one, don’t be afraid to talk about him or her.

Don’t accept “I’m fine” from your friend

Ask your friends how they feel — and don’t let them get away with “I’m fine.” We are so polite in our society that we don’t want to burden others with our problems. Ask your friend how they feel many months after the death. In the beginning, people are in shock and the pain sometimes takes months to hit. By then the world feels you should be “getting over it”! To support mourning friends, don’t just ask when you see them at work or at a social function. Pick up the phone and call.

Talk about the pain of grief with your friend – be real

It takes an enormous amount of energy to “be strong” or look “normal.”

how to help a grieving friend Many people who are grieving could win Oscars for their performances, looking and acting as they did before so their friends would not be uncomfortable. In actuality they are trying to discover what their new “normal” is, and that takes time. Just because people look good doesn’t mean they feel good, so don’t let the façade fool you. Your mourning friend may need someone to acknowledge that this is a difficult time.

To learn the importance of expressing grief, read tips for grieving widows or widowers.

Avoid clichés about friends, death, and losing loved ones

Avoid clichés about “getting on with life” and “getting over it” because they irritate your friends who have lost a loved one. They know these expressions do not represent the reality. They won’t get over it, but they will learn to live with it or adjust to their new world. Your mourning friend isn’t just dealing with the absence of the person they loved, but also how that person affected their lives, and the loss of future plans and dreams. Continue to love your friend as he/she changes and adapts to a new world.

Keep reaching out to your friend

Sometimes they don’t know what they need and don’t have the energy to figure it out, so it would be better if you figure out what your friend needs and just do it. If it is an invitation to go somewhere, don’t be offended if you are turned down. Keep asking. Everyday is different and by continuing to ask you are staying in touch and connecting with someone who is in pain. Continuing to invite someone will let him or her know you are there for him or her and you care.

If you want to give your friend a gift, read Thoughtful Sympathy Gifts for the Loss of a Mother.

Find practical ways to help a friend who lost a loved one

Bring meals that freeze well and can be heated up in a few days or weeks. Offer to do laundry, grocery shopping, or errand running. If your friend has kids, volunteer to take them to sports practices or ballet lessons. If you haven’t given a gift or card, consider a “thinking of you” sympathy gift basket — it’s both practical and thoughtful.

May you trust yourself, and simply be a friend.

Jane Galbraith, BScN, R.N., offers presentations and workshops to organizations on grief and its effects on the workplace. To contact Jane or order her book, visit Baby Boomers Face Grief. This article is copyrighted by Galbraith.


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12 thoughts on “5 Tips for Helping a Grieving Friend”

  1. Though it is hard to loss someone, it is also tough to comfort someone who is in grief. I am thankful of your article because you give good advices and tips. Great work!

  2. hie!! I just want to ask how can i help my friend deal with his mom’s death!! He is a teenager and he has a younger sister!!

  3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Dear yolly,

    I’m sorry to hear your best friend lost her mom…if you need tips to help her grieve long distance, let me know.

  4. my best friend lost her mum and two years ago she lost her dad, she was just starting to heal her dad’s death and now her mum is gone. i dont know what worse the fact that i feel helpless or the fact that i cant be there because she is in a different country and i cant be there.

  5. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Dear heather feather,

    I’m so sorry to hear that your friend lost her husband…and they have a baby together. So sad.

    You’re being a good friend, but listening and talking with her. I can’t believe a loving friend like you could hurt her more. Just be yourself – kind, caring, compassionate – and she will feel your love, and be comforted.


  6. Im glad I found this. I have a dear friend who lost her husband recently. She has an infant son and is many miles away from me. I hurt for her in unimaginable ways. I talk to her and listen as much as I can. It’s helpful to know so other things. I am always afraid to hurt her more. This article really helped.

  7. I can’t write anything right now as I am going to be away for the next month. However the same philosophy holds for grieving any loss – you need to talk about it, get the feelings out, be good to yourself and do what feels good to do. Getting over losses take time but you do learn to live with the loss and go on to a productive life.
    Take care

  8. Krystyna, there are so many things we don’t know about the mysterious spirit world, souls, and the Universe….and so I don’t think anyone can say for sure either way!

    But I myself believe that spirits do exist, and I believe some people are more sensitive to hearing, feeling, and seeing them than others.

    If you feel that your family — and your dear departed dog — is sending their spiritual presence, then hold on to that feeling! Enjoy the comfort, light, and happiness their presence brings.

    One cautionary note: be wary about paying money to people who say they can contact your departed family members or pets. There are so many scammers out there, and you don’t want to throw your money away.

    Instead, enjoy the presence and spirit when it comes — and don’t worry about what other people say about it. Let your heart and soul be your guide.

    Sending you warm fuzzy hugs,

  9. Hi,can pets come from Heaven as a Spirits like a dead people can?I know,I have a good Spirits from my family around me -just to protect me-I think…….Krystyna

  10. Jane, if you have any specific tips on helping a grieving friend get over their pet loss, I’d love to hear them. So many people lose their pets and some never really get over it…and sometimes friends just don’t know what to say. So, if you want to write an article or give tips to help friends deal with their pet loss here in the comments section, I’d appreciate it! If not, no worries.

    Krystyna, I’m sure you did the right thing. Sometimes the best thing we can do is let go of our pets…no matter how much it hurts us. Sometimes, it’s better for pets to be in heaven than suffering through illness or painful old age.

    Your pain will subside…and your dog will always be in your heart.

    Warm wishes,

  11. Whatever makes you feel better through this difficult time is the right thing to do. Honouring your pet in this way is a wonderful thing.
    I know how difficult it is to lose a pet – hang in there.

  12. My dog was poisened.After he died ,he was with me all the time (his soul).I could feel his energy,smell even a short bark.Yesterday I sent him to Pets Heaven.Have I done the wright thing?-Krystyna