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5 ways to support grieving friends, family when you’re not sure how

The bereavement team at HOC Navigators’ Goldstein Family Grief Center says support from family and friends plays a significant role in the healing process.

“Supporting someone through this process is very important because grief is very isolating, even within the same family,” said Marjorie Rentz, supervisor of bereavement services at the Goldstein Family Grief Center.

If you know someone who’s grieving, these five tips can help you support them.

1. Be present. Listen with love and without judgement.

Allowing people to tell the story of their loved one, including details of their death, is a loving act. It helps them absorb their loss and grow toward acceptance, according to Rentz. Avoid correcting details or passing judgement.

“Being present with someone helps them realize there’s support for the feelings of grief they want to express,” she said. Too often, people reach out but not in a way that allows the grieving to really express themselves. “So, it becomes this little dance where no one is connecting,” Rentz explained.


2. Acknowledge a person’s pain. Resist trying to “fix” things.

Too often, we define support as fixing something, Rentz explained, but that equation doesn’t work in grief.

“There are no words or actions that can make things better in a person’s moment of pain,” she said. “Acknowledge that their pain is real. That it stinks.” Put yourself aside and be with them in their pain. Let them talk. Let them cry.

As humans, we underestimate the power of bearing witness to someone’s pain, Rentz said. “The ultimate goal is support and to give that person what they need, not what we think they need.”


3. Talk about the loved one who has passed. Memories are healing.

It’s common for people to avoid talking about someone’s departed loved one for fear of upsetting them. But this can have an adverse effect.

“People want to know their loved ones haven’t been forgotten,” Rentz said. “Saying their name, recounting memories and telling stories is comforting.” Even a short note or a phone or text message can mean the world.


4. Be real. Steer clear of silver linings and platitudes.

Beginning statements with “at least” can minimize a person’s loss and deny the acuteness of their grief, Rentz explained. “At least she didn’t suffer” and “At least he got to see his first grandchild” are a few examples. Most people will realize their own unique silver linings and in their own time.

The same goes for platitudes. They deny the pain a person feels right now. “This too shall pass” and “Time heals all wounds” may be true, but statements like these invalidate a person’s current experience, Rentz said. “It gets ahead of where they are.”


5. Show up. Offer concrete assistance but respect boundaries.

Nearly everyone who’s grieving could use help with the lawn, a pet or meals. The best way to offer help, Rentz said, is to suggest something specific. Avoid saying, “What can I do to help?” or “Let me know if you need anything.” A grieving person often doesn’t have the capacity for this type of critical thinking. It’s OK to be bold and even mention a specific day you can stop by to help.

For more information on grief, including grief support groups, please visit the Goldstein Family Grief Center.

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