How to Help Others

Ways to Help a Grieving Friend or Relative

During the first days following a death, relatives, friends and neighbors are supportive at the wake and funeral. Sympathy cards, food, flowers and guests arrive to express condolences and support the bereaved. After the funeral, the person is faced with the painful reality of life without their loved one: Your help and understanding can make a significant difference during this difficult time. Unresolved grief can lead to poor physical or emotional health, substance abuse, marital problems, workplace difficulties and suicide. A grieving person needs someone who is willing to: LISTEN. It is important to not judge, offer advice, share your own story or minimize how the person should or shouldn’t feel. Just being there and listening is the best way to help.

Hopefully, the following suggestions will help you feel more comfortable.

LISTEN. Be there. Hug. The bereaved need someone to LISTEN. They don’t expect answers, just a good listener.

MAKE YOUR OFFER OF HELP SPECIFIC. Don’t say, “Call me anytime,” instead, be specific. “Let me shop for you on Thursday afternoon.”

GIVE PRACTICAL HELP. Look for a need and fill it; such as running errands, babysitting, holiday shopping and decorating, or making a meal.

SHOW THAT YOU CARE. Send a special card or call on the phone. Stay in their life.

GIVE A THOUGHTFUL GIFT. A small gift such as a plate of cookies, a book for journaling or one of HOPE’s books are all thoughtful ideas.

VALIDATE FEELINGS. Allow & encourage the bereaved to express their emotions and be supportive.

LISTEN-LISTEN-LISTEN. This is listed again because it is so important. Offer to spend time, sit over a cup of tea, go for a walk, go out to lunch.

Things Not to Say

  • “God never gives you more than you can handle.” God does not send tragedy to test our faith.
  • “It was God’s will.” How can the grieving find comfort in believing that a God they love would take such an important person away from them?
  • “You have other children,” or “You can always have another baby.” No one can replace the child who died.
  • “It was for the best.” If the grieving persons have watched their loved one suffer with physical or pyschological pain, they may come to this conclusion themselves. It is not up to us to decide when they should be reconciled to this fact. The grieving person left behind is not always better off.
  • “Be strong. You’re the man of the house now. Your mother needs you.” It’s enough to handle eating, sleeping and walking. No child should ever be burdened with this comment.
  • “I could never handle this as well as you.” This phrase sets the grieving person on a pedestal from which they will eventually crash.
  • “I know just how you feel.” Impossible! You are not in my shoes.
  • “You just need a little time,” or “Time will heal.” The grieving person is having difficulty just getting through today.
  • “It could be worse.” Fantasizing the possibility of additional tragedy cannot alleviate the pain the grieving are experiencing.
  • “You were lucky to have her as long as you did, Your mother lived a long life.” Even if our mother or father lived to be 100 years old, we still want them with us.The last thing we want to hear is how “lucky” we are.
  • “God loved your baby so much, He took her to Heaven to be one of His angels.” How can this comfort a mother or father standing there with empty arms?

“Reprinted with permission from I Want to Help But I Don’t Know How.”