What’s the best way to help a grieving friend?
If you have a friend who has experienced the loss of a loved one, your first instinct is to help.
But that first impulse is quickly tempered by a second thought: Maybe I need to give them space. Perhaps they want to be alone, and besides, I wouldn’t know what to say. And I certainly don’t want to say something hurtful and insensitive on accident….
So the question is, How can I help a grieving friend while honoring what they are feeling right now?
Below, we have three very helpful tips followed by 10 specific ways to support your grieving friend.
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 (a.k.a. words of affirmation) may be the way to affirm and support one person, showing (a.k.a. acts of service) may the way to help another person.
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 Kübler-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.
1. Phone Call
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 a Card
3. Help Out
Offer to help them around the house.
Don’t ask your grieving friend if they need any help. It’s more realistic 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. Offer Rides
Chances are they won’t be focused or motivated to go driving. Offer to run errands with them, keeping them company and doing the driving so they don’t have to worry about it. Get groceries, drop off kids, all the normal things.
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.
5. Give a Care Package
Gently surprise them them with a sympathy gift or care package. You can pretty easily DIY a 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. Have Fun
Sometimes the best thing is to help your grieving friend to see that it’s ok to enjoy themselves a little.
Invite them on a mini shopping spree with you. Give them a gift card to their favorite store or boutique. Go out for manicures or mini golf.
7. Have Coffee & Chat
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. Get Out to Relax
Take them out to eat, to their favorite store, to the movies, or just for a drive down a scenic road.
9. Hugs & Personal Touch
Give them a big, long hug whenever you see them and get a chance to. Maybe even hold their hand if they need it, or put your arm around their shoulder (if that’s not too weird for either of you… you know your friendship better than we do!).
10. Stay Close
Stay close to them throughout their time of need. You don’t want to stifle your grieving friend, either, so it’s best to simply ask and talk about it.
“Would you like me to stay by you during the funeral?” or perhaps, “I know the first time going to church without your husband will be difficult, can I pick you up and come in with you, and sit by you?”
Offer to keep your phone on for texts at night, to drive them to their first day back to work or school, or volunteer to come over and hang out while they take a good long nap.
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.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also find the following posts helpful:
- Grief & Self-Care: 44 Tips for Healing, Comfort, and Peace
- 50 Comforting Sympathy Prayers
- 22 Tips for Caring for Someone Who Is Grieving
- 10 Heartwarming Sympathy Gifts for a Grieving Friend
- 83 Practical Ways to Comfort Someone
Aubrey is a lifelong writer who has served in the funeral industry since 2016. After graduating from Dallas Institute of Funeral Service, she knew she wanted to continue to serve families through her writing, but didn’t know how.
Soon after, Aubrey experienced a “lightbulb” moment and started her eulogy writing business, Eulogies by Aubrey, in 2019.
Aubrey has written professionally since 2012, covering not only funeral-related topics and gift trends, but also for TV guide listings, as well as legal topics. She began writing for US Urns Online in 2019.
Aubrey’s work has been featured in Huffpost, Coming of Age Magazine, and 1800Flowers.com. She holds certifications in Cremation Arrangement (ICCFA) and Burial at Sea (NEBAS), and as of 2023, is a trained and certified birth and bereavement doula (SBD). Aubrey is currently studying toward her degree in Business Administration.