Last Updated on February 13, 2021
How can you bring comfort to someone who is grieving, crying, sad, or stressed? Maybe they lost a loved one, or maybe they are experiencing grief over the loss of a relationship, job, a life opportunity, or any of those million and one other things that get to us.
You want to provide help, comfort, and support for your friend. That’s great! But… how, exactly, do you do this?
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How to Comfort Someone
- Be there
- Don’t try to ‘fix’ things
- Help out
- Say something
- Be creative
- Give them time
- Keep checking in
The trouble is how to actually do those things in the real world. So let’s get practical!
Here are 83 practical ways to comfort someone in their time of need. We’re gearing this towards people who are mourning the loss of a loved one, but you can apply the ideas to a wide range of situations.
Part I: Being There
One of the best ways to bring comfort to someone who is sad or grieving is to simply be there.
To be there, sometimes you need to just show up. Other times you should probably ask/tell them, like, “I’m coming over Thursday, what would be a good time?”
You’ll probably want to talk, correct, share your own insights, and ask questions. But the most important thing is to come ready to listen.
…but don’t make them feel obligated to talk
Sometimes the mourner isn’t ready to talk. That’s not unusual at all. Just be there.
Don’t feel the need to fill in the silence. That’s where you’ll start saying stupid things.
Let them cry
Expect that they might cry, and be ok with it. Maybe even tell them so. Share a good cry together – “weep with those who weep.”
This probably goes without saying, but it’s good to remember. The grieving person doesn’t need tough love right now. Regular love will do fine.
…but also don’t treat them with kid gloves
Some people take gentleness to the extreme and that can actually make it awkward.
Remember that they’re still the same person. They may not know how to fully engage right now but they can still talk about their loved one, the weather, share jokes, get hungry, need alone time, need to be pushed out of their shell at times, cheer on their sports team, care about politics or the environment or what’s going on in the gossip columns.
See previous tip. Treating them normally (while still acknowledging and allowing for their grief) is just another way of showing respect.
Remind them more than once that you’re available
And then actually be available, or make yourself available on short notice.
…but also don’t wait for them to ask
Take the initiative. Maybe don’t just show up (but use your judgment). Ask if you can come over and just watch TV or maybe weed their garden. Raid their fridge and make some lunch or dinner. The point is to be there.
You might have an idea of what grief should look like. Strong and silent; unwavering faith; crying all the time. Whatever your image of grief is, your friend’s lived experience will probably be different.
Forgive any offence or perceived slight
They might not call you back, say thank-you, return your text, or react the way you want to your gift or gesture. In the nicest way possible: Get over it.
Offer a hug
Hugs are good. Human touch is important. Asking permission is also important; just don’t be weird.
There are other healthy and appropriate ways to use comforting touch, too: Clasp hands, a brief touch on the shoulder or elbow, a side hug.
Pray for them (and with them)
If you’re a believer, pray for their comfort. Let them know you’re praying for them; fellow believers will be grateful, and most non-believers appreciate the thought. If they share your faith, offer to pray with them when you visit.
Don’t feel like you have to understand what they’re going through
Because you won’t. As a good friend, yes, you’ll listen, learn, read articles like this one. But don’t feel burdened to try to make sense of everything for them, or to completely understand what they are thinking and feeling. Just be there.
Ask how they’d like to be treated
Sometimes, you don’t know until you ask. They might not know. But then again, they might know exactly how they want to be treated.
Texting is a great way to ‘be there’ when you’re not actually able to be physically present.
Be there later, too
Grief doesn’t just last a week or a month. To some extent, the loss will always affect your friend. Be there in six months, a year, two years from now.
Give them space
It’s good to be there, but also give them some space. Everyone needs alone time.
If you can’t be there, send something
Definitely send a sympathy card or condolence message. For an extra-special touch, send a gift or some gesture of love and support.
Send a bird feeder memorial
This personalized bird feeder memorial is a popular choice:
It’s cool because it goes outside (not some tacky thing they stick in a drawer), it’s life-sustaining, nature-friendly, personalized in honor of their loved one. Just a really neat idea.
Send a practical care package
From Here for You, this “Compassion Package” includes practical, high-quality, and eco-friendly household items like paper plates, cutlery, and, yes, TP:
Here’s our review and unboxing of this care package.
Also, see more sympathy gift ideas here.
Part II: Helping Out
Learn about some meaningful ways to show up and be genuinely helpful.
Ask for ways to help
We’ll include lots of specific ways for you to volunteer help, but the starting place is to ask. “I’m free on Tuesday, what can I help you with?” “Can I pick up the kids from school for you to give you the afternoon off?” That sort of thing.
Let them rest
Let them know it’s really, really ok to rest. Take over hosting responsibilities, clean the kitchen, or watch the kids while they take a nap or a good long walk.
Give them time off
Take over a few responsibilities so that they can just be.
Give a massage
A gift certificate, that is. Don’t be weird and offer a massage yourself, unless you’re some sort of certified masseuse.
Help run errands
Go with them, or do it for them. It helps.
Sometimes people might need to go places but need emotional support. Or perhaps grief is affecting them physically, and they feel shaky or lightheaded.
Offer to drive them places. Ask if they want you to go in with them; wait in the car with a book if they don’t.
They’re busy with other stuff right now. Funeral arrangements, family gatherings, taking time to grieve. Just dive in a mow the lawn, trim the hedges, rake the leaves, whatever needs doing.
Come over and clean while they rest or work together on a few tasks. If they feel awkward about it, offer to come over while they’re gone, or spring for a cleaning service.
Cook a meal
Sometimes a real, genuine, home-cooked meal provides the nourishment and home-filling aroma that they need. A presence in the kitchen, warm soup or a crisp salad (or both), a friend to share it with. These are good things.
Bring a meal
Bring freezer-friendly food (in case others have brought over meals too) and use disposable containers so they don’t have anything to return. Here’s a guide on How to Make & Deliver Sympathy Meals.
Oh, and include a little bonus like a treat, a pair of cozy socks, a book, or whatever you think they might like.
Yesterday the might not have spoken at all, and today they talk your ear off, and tomorrow they can’t get out of bed. Roll with it.
Part III: Speaking Words of Comfort
One of the things people struggle with most is what to say…. and what not to say.
It’s very important that you don’t just ignore them. Talk to them, even if you know you’re going to put your foot in your mouth. Obviously try not to put your foot in your mouth*, but it is still huge that you simply say something.
*An easy way to do this is to read up on what to avoid saying, like these things.
If in doubt, probably don’t say it
This is the other side of the coin: Yes, talk to the person – they’re a human being. Just be careful what you say. That’s it.
Maybe you’re curious about the way the person died and wondering if it’s appropriate to ask (don’t). Maybe you’re wondering if they would benefit from knowing about the time you lost your uncle (they wouldn’t). Or perhaps you feel like you need to provide cheer in some way, but you’re not quite sure how (so just don’t).
You get the idea.
You can’t go wrong with this.
Here are 101 variations on how to say it, if you need some help.
“You are loved”
Who wouldn’t benefit from hearing this?
“I hear you”
This tells the person that you’re really listening, and not just waiting for your turn to dispense wisdom. No one needs that.
“I’m thinking of you today”
This is a good one to text every now and then.
“The love you feel for him/her is still real”
Because it is. You may not know where the person is, so don’t say cheesy things like “they’re looking down on you right now.” But you do know that the love they feel is still real, even though the recipient of that love has passed away.
“It hurts because you loved them so much”
This is true.
“My favorite memory of her/him was the time…”
Memories are wonderful to share. Think about it – they don’t have any new memories to make with their loved one. But what if you can provide a story that they had never heard before? Or relive one that they know well, but from a new perspective (yours)?
“What a beautiful legacy he/she left”
But only say it if you mean it. From here, it’s easy to continue talking with what, exactly, that legacy is. It’s a great conversation starter.
“I don’t know what to say”
Just be honest. That’s perfectly fine.
“You look beautiful today.”
“I see you’ve been keeping up on the garden again, it looks amazing.”
“I’m so impressed by your courage and openness through all of this.”
Keep reaching out
After you’ve expressed condolences, shared stories, prayed together, gone to the funeral…. keep reaching out. Ask yourself: Is their spouse/child/parent still gone? Then yes, they’re still affected by it.
Part IV: Creative Ideas to Comfort Someone
A thoughtful gift, gesture, or tribute can bring unexpected comfort to someone you care about.
Create an online memorial
Use social media, or use one of the many free memorial websites to create a place where people can share photos and memories. Your grieving friend may not want to look at it now, but it will be there when they’re ready.
Give them things to do
This is sort of the opposite of what you’d expect. Most people want to help out the person who needs comfort, not pile on more stuff! However, for many of us, an unoccupied mind plus free/alone time is a recipe for depression.
So think up some creative tasks that aren’t a burden. Make a memorial photo album of their loved one, or write in a grief journal. Volunteer to work with them to finish that mosaic table top they were working on before… all of this. These things can be genuinely helpful.
Distractions are ok
Give them a riveting thriller you recently read, watch a movie together, share memes and tell jokes, help them get back into their hobbies and the swing of daily life. Taking time to grieve is important, but so is so-called “normal” life.
Show up with their favorite coffee or maybe a pastry.
Make them eat protein
People will be bringing coffee, treats, and sweets – so that sort of thing will be readily available. Plus those who grieve can tend to go for snacks, carbs, and sugars because they’re “comfort” foods. So bring chicken to grill and put on a salad, or a nice healthy soup, or even some nuts or jerky to help combat the tendency to reach for unhealthy snack foods.
Raise a glass in memory of their loved one
This is a neat idea, no? Bring a bottle of wine, or this opener and a favorite brew, and raise a glass to their loved one’s memory together.
Please be smart and careful with alcohol and grief.
Bring household necessities
They probably don’t feel like running out to the store. So it’s a good excuse to show up with some basic stuff – dish soap, TP, plastic baggies, paper plates, plus maybe a book or some chocolate.
Remember the children
If there are kids in the house, do something special for them. When bringing a meal, include some kid-friendly favorites. If you’re stopping by to share tea with your friend, bring some hot cocoa packets to share with the young ones.
Kids grieve too, of course. And your friend will be comforted when they see that you’re also caring for the rest of their family.
Look at pictures together
If you have any photos of the one who passed away, share them with your grieving friend. Look at photo albums with them. Scroll together through their phone’s photos, and maybe help them cast it to their TV so you can watch a slideshow on the big screen.
Send a card
So what if you’re just down the road? Everyone appreciates a hand-written note. Send your card after the first couple of weeks, where they’ll probably be getting a lot of cards and flowers. Send one a week. They can be silly postcards, or comforting Scriptures, or anything at all.
Part V: How to Comfort Someone Who Lost a Loved One
People need comfort for many reasons. Here, learn about ways to comfort someone after a death.
Say the deceased person’s name
When you avoid mentioning the decedent’s name, it makes the grieving person feel like their loved one is being erased or ghosted. So don’t be afraid – say, “I miss Mike too.”
Take initiative to honor that person’s memory
Show up for the funeral
It’s an important gesture of support, and a way to honor the life of the person who died. If you’re not sure about whether you should attend, or if you’re really uncomfortable about going, read this.
Share in their grief
This will probably look different for your situation – every person, and every relationship is different. But if you can, and if the mourning person is open to it, find ways to share in their grief. Share stories and memories, talk about how the person’s death has affected you, tell of the ways that they inspired you to be a better person, create some sort of memorial together.
Don’t try to fix it
It’s a natural human impulse to want to make things better. Healthy mourning simply takes time. There’s no way to rush it, and you can’t make it better – their loved one is gone. So avoid trying to put a band-aid on their grief.
Give them freedom
Grief looks very different for each and every person. And each day can bring a completely new experience. Allow them freedom to be sad, talkative, angry, silent, active, or a couch potato (for a season, of course) and to make mistakes.
Get them out of the house
People in mourning need quiet time, alone time, down time. But all people need to get out now and then.
Exercise with them
Go for a walk, on a jog, or to the gym together. Exercise helps with stress by boosting endorphins, reducing the negative effects of stress, and increasing their overall health.
Exercise is one good way to get them out of the house, and also just spend time together. You can talk or not. Make it a daily, twice a week, or weekly thing.
If you have a story or a memory involving the person who died, tell it. Reliving familiar stories can be very wholesome, and if they had never heard that particular story before, it can sometimes feel like getting back a tiny fragment of that person who is gone.
Remind them of the good times they had, rather than what they will miss
It’s easy for mourners to focus out on all that they will miss out on sharing with their loved one. Bring the conversation back to the privilege of the memories that they did get to make together.
Help them with funeral planning
Most funeral directors are really helpful, but the reality is that they need to sell stuff. Funeral homes have standard sales practices that aren’t unethical but can be all the more persuasive because the person making decisions is in a fragile state.
One of the best ways to save on funeral expenses is by having a friend come along to the funeral home. This is someone who isn’t affected in the same way as the immediate family and thus can think a little more clearly to avoid unnecessary expenses. You can be that person.
Visit the cemetery with them
Some people prefer to visit the cemetery alone. That’s perfectly fine.
But if your friend is having a hard time building up the emotional strength to visit the grave site, offer to go with them.
Remember that each person grieves differently
There are many types of grief. While there are recognized stages and identifiable symptoms, ultimately each person has their own process and timeframe for grief.
Set a reminder in your phone for one month, six months, a year from now
Those will be hard dates for them. Remind yourself so that you can send a text or just show up with wine or ice cream for a movie night.
Related: How to Remember & Celebrate a Death Anniversary
(See part 2 in that article for ways to be there for a friend)
Part VI: How to Comfort Someone Who is Crying
What should you do when someone breaks down cries? It can feel awkward… but it doesn’t have to. Learn what to do, and come prepared.
Just be there
One of the best ways to comfort someone who is crying is to be a comforting presence. Be there, patiently, calmly, soothingly. Don’t get stressed out over their crying or feel like you have to get them to stop. Crying is a normal part of grief. The best comfort is to let them know it’s ok to cry.
Affirm their grief
I just said it above, but tell them it’s ok to cry. That affirms them in the midst of their grief.
Some more phrases:
- “It’s ok to be sad.”
- “I’m here with you.”
- “Take all the time you need.”
Offer a hand, a hug, or to let them be for a minute
When they start crying, you might not know what to do, and they probably don’t either. Just ask:
“Would you like a hug, or for me to hold your hand? Or would you prefer if I gave you a few minutes?”
It’s that simple.
Get a tissue for them
You might want to come prepared, just in case.
Inject some humor
As they’re winding down, sometimes you or they start talking about stuff, but other times it might be appropriate to add some levity. They’ll wipe their eyes and say sorry for smearing makeup all over, etc. You can say, “It’s ok, I’m an ugly crier too.”
Stick around for a while
The grieving person will typically feel like their grief is driving everyone away. Doubly so when they cry. So put that fear to rest by sticking around.
Help tidy up, make a sandwich, watch a movie together, talk about the decedent or about completely different things, help fold the laundry. Living life together, even briefly, can help provide a sense of normalcy during turbulent times.
Encourage them to see a professional
Everyone cries, or at least probably should, when mourning a loved one. Don’t make the mistake of telling them to go see a therapist just because they wept a little – that sends the message that good, healthy grief is somehow defective.
On the other hand, deep grief is hard and painful. There are professionals and support groups that really can help. Your friend shouldn’t have to go at it alone, even with your support. So, as appropriate, suggest professional help and maybe even offer to go with them.
Part VII: “Comforting” Ideas to Avoid
Those are big air quotes around the word “comforting.” As in, not-so-comforting. Here are some ideas and phrases to avoid.
You have some super-great tips. Awesome. But keep them to yourself unless you’re specifically asked for them. My wife and I went through some chronic medical issues and we got so, so tired of hearing about essential oils. Please, people. We know. We tried it. Stop.
Promises you can’t keep
Don’t say you’ll be there for them no matter what, and then not show up when they need you.
Thoughtlessly telling them to go see a therapist
Grief is a rocky journey. It’s helpful to have support along the way, so definitely be there for your friend however you can.
Be careful, though, about recommending professional help. Some people need it, for sure. But don’t rush to conclusions. Give them time to grieve, to mourn, to process, and to heal.
“I understand what you’re going through”
C’mon, really? You know what it feels like to lose her mom? Your experience may be similar, but you still shouldn’t say this.
“I’m sorry for your loss”
This phrase is fine, but they’ll probably hear it so much that it loses any meaning. Here’s what to say instead.
“How did they die?”
Especially if the person died suddenly and tragically, this is a natural question for you and others to have. But don’t. It’s like asking them to relive a trauma.
If you’re in a deep, healthy conversation and you get the vibe that it’s the right thing to talk about, ask permission – “Do you want to talk about how they died?” – but only if it absolutely seems like they are wanting to talk about it.
Best Ways to Comfort Your Friend
These are some of the best ways we know to bring comfort to your grieving friend or loved one. We hope this helps, and if you have any additional suggestions, drop them in the comments.
Read this one next: How to Grieve Well (or poorly, for that matter)