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How to Help a Grieving Friend

Thoughtful tips and helpful ideas

Last Updated on September 24, 2020

Today we’re going to be discussing grief, specifically how to help a grieving friend.

Maybe you know someone who is in mourning over the loss of a loved one. Maybe you really want to help your grieving friend, but are at a loss of words, or feel that there’s nothing you could really do to ease their pain.

In this article, we’re going to be sharing some helpful tips, as well as 10 specific ways that you can help your bereaved friend, no matter where they are in their grief journey.

Let’s get started.

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3 Tips to Help a Grieving Friend

Tip #1: Consider Your Friend’s Love Language

Sometimes it can be difficult to know the right things to say when a friend loses someone they love. No matter how close the two of you are or how long you’ve been friends, it seems like there’s nothing you could possibly say or do that would make them feel any better right now.

In this case, considering your friend’s love language can help you figure out the best kind of support to offer them.

According to pastor and author Gary Chapman, there are 5 main love languages:

  • Words of affirmation
  • Acts of service
  • Receiving gifts
  • Quality time
  • Physical touch

While talking (aka words of affirmation) may be one person’s love language, showing (aka acts of service) may be another’s.

What’s your friend’s love language? And what’s yours? If the two of you have different ones, you may have to step out of your comfort zone in order to cater to your friend’s specific love language in their time of grief. Just by doing that you are already showing an act of love! Take this quiz to figure out yours/your friend’s.

Also see below for 10 specific ways support your bereaved friend no matter what their (or your) love language is.

Tip #2: Understand That Everyone Grieves Differently

Every single person on the face of this planet has their own unique way of processing the death of a loved one.

Some people grieve by taking charge.

This person might charge of their loved one’s funeral planning, of executing their will, or of seeing to their estate. They often want to feel a sense of control because they have no control over the fact that their loved one has died.

During this time they may come across as short-tempered. If that seems out of character for them, keep in mind that it may just be their way of processing their loss.

Stay out of their way, but still be present if they do need or ask for help with anything.

Other people grieve by lamenting.

Your friend may cry for days on end, sleep more than usual, lose their appetite, and fail to respond to texts or phone calls. He or she may not be able to talk about anything except for their loved one.

This kind of grief can be ongoing, to the point that it turns into depression. So sometimes professional help is needed. If your friend needs counseling or other therapy in order to help them process their loss, be there for them as a show of support.

Still others don’t seem to be grieving at all.

If your friend has lost a loved one to whom they were very close, but do not cry nor show any sign of sadness whatsoever, it’s probably perfectly okay. They may very well be letting their emotions go behind closed doors, yet showing strength in the presence of others, at their loved one’s funeral, etc.

If you suspect denial on their part concerning the death of their loved one, give them some time; it could be them experiencing what psychologist Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross described as the first stage of grief.

That leads us to our next tip….

Tip #3: Give Them Time

When you wonder how to help a grieving friend, you are really asking yourself, “How can I possibly make a difference in ___________’s grief journey? What could I possibly do for them to ease their pain, if only a little bit?”

We have some great ideas below to help you figure out the best answer to that question. But before we get to that, let us offer one especially specific way that you can show your friend support at this very moment:

Give them time.

Give your friend space, too. By all means, do go ahead and give them a call or send them a message of support. But don’t be offended if they do not answer your phone call or respond to your text right away. They are probably being inundated with calls and messages from family and friends near and far, and also trying to keep in touch with the funeral home in regards to service planning.

When all is said and done, they are going to get back to you. And they are going to appreciate the fact that you provided them, in an unconditional way, with the space and time that they needed.

10 Specific Ways to Help Your Grieving Friend

Now let’s take a look together at specific ways you can help your friend process their loss, with special consideration to their particular love language.

Words of Affirmation

1. Give them a call to let them know, from the bottom of your heart, how sorry you are for their loss. If they don’t answer, leave them a voice mail much the same. If you choose to text or email them, the longer and more heartfelt the message the better.

2. Send them a sympathy card or make one yourself. And/or go to their loved one’s memorial page (oftentimes on the funeral home’s website) and leave a kind message in their memory.

Acts of Service

3. Offer to help them around the house. Don’t ask them if they need any help…it’s more helpful to assume that they do. Instead, you can ask, “What do you need the most help with right now, house work or yard work?”

4. Take them to their therapy or counseling appointments. Encourage them to see their therapist if they don’t want to, and offer them a ride if they need it.

Receiving Gifts

5. Gently surprise them them with a gift basket or care package. You can pretty easily DIY a sympathy gift basket for your friend, filled with books, cocoa, tea, music, a cozy blanket, candles, and so on. If you want to go with a practical care package instead, we suggest these ones from Here for You.

6. Invite them on a mini shopping spree with you. Or give them a gift card to their favorite store or boutique.

For more gift-giving inspiration, see 29 Sympathy Gifts for Someone Who Is Grieving.

Quality Time

7. Invite them over for coffee (or pick up some to-go and take it to their house). Just sit and chat with them about nothing in particular, or about whatever they want to talk about.

8. Take them out to eat, to their favorite store, to the movies, or just for a drive down a scenic road.

Physical Touch

9. Give them a big, long hug whenever you see them/get a chance to. Maybe even hold their hand if they need it (if that’s not too weird for either of you… you know your friendship better than we do!)

10. Stay close to them throughout their time of need. Don’t venture too far away during the funeral or visitation, and maybe even place a hand on their shoulder from time to time to let them know you’re still there.

More Ways to Help

As you can see, there are many ways that you can help your friend come to terms with their grief, supporting them as they continue to mourn in a healthy way.

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