Helping people to deal with bereavement

When a friend or relative is dealing with bereavement, we may feel a bit useless, not sure how to act around them or what to do to help them. At times we can get too “positive” in a desire to help them get through this stage in their lives. Or we may avoid them altogether, afraid that we can make matters worse. But the bereaved need your support, even if they appear to be fine and loneliness is one of their main complaints when it comes to talking about their grief. So what can you do? Here are a few ideas that may come in handy:

  • Be personal. Call or write a letter. Say how sad you are at the news and share some fond memories you have of the deceased. Do not limit this contact to just the funeral. The bereaved need comfort for weeks or even months after the event.
  • Do not hesitate to call or write if you have learned about the passing days or weeks later. The bereaved appreciate (and sometimes need) this opportunity to talk about their loved ones.
  • Offer practical help, from bringing dinner to babysitting to helping dispose of the deceased’s clothes and objects. Invite the bereaved to lunch or dinner. Do not make offers or promises that you can’t keep.
  • Talk about the deceased. Share anecdotes and memories. Open the space for the bereaved to talk about their loved one. That said, also speak about everyday things that matter.
  • Keep trying. Even if the person does not want to speak much or go out sometimes, understand that this is temporary and she or he may be more willing to be social on another occasion.
  • Understand that saying that you “understand” or “know how they feel” hardly helps the bereaved – even if you have gone through a similar experience. It is best to admit that you can only imagine the grief that the person is going through and if they ask, share some of the things that may have helped you to go through the bereavement process.
  • Do not try to put a time limit on people’s bereavement. It may take months, it may take years. Refrain from suggesting to “move on” or “get over”. Be patient.
  • Listen, listen, listen. But don’t feel that you have to come up with solutions or advise. Just listen.