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Grief Series: How to Help a Grieving Loved One

When people are at a point of intense inner pain and loss, they are not looking for pat answers or advice; they are looking to be heard, loved, and understood. As a matter of fact, the word comfort literally means, “to call to one’s side”. Therefore, though grief draws out the ‘why’ questions in life, bringing comfort and even counsel to the grieving has nothing to do with providing answers to those questions. It has everything to do with being a loving, caring, and listening presence.

Etiquette for the Comforter:

  1. Don’t be afraid to talk about the loss. Ignoring a person or their grief only increases their feelings of being alone in it.

  2. Have the courage to say the name of the person that was lost (if a death). Remember, love does not die with the person.

  3. Invite them to talk, but do not force them to. Reassure them that you are there to listen, and do not interrupt when they share.

  4. Ask open-ended questions that require more than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers.

  5. Make sure you are not monopolizing the conversation - give them freedom to talk.

  6. Allow silence to be part of the conversation. Presence is powerful in and of itself.

  7. If you had your own loss, share but do not compare. Don’t say, “I understand” when you haven’t been in a similar situation.

  8. Never minimize their pain with cliches like: “It’s probably for the best”; “They’re in a better place”; “Things could be worse”; “You’re strong, you’ll get over it soon”; “You know, God is in control”. Though well intentioned, it minimizes their feelings.

  9. Be specific in your offer to help - think of things they may need that you could offer (e.g.. A ride, pick up kids, groceries, etc.). Ask yourself, ‘what would I need / find helpful if I were in a similar situation?’ Take initiative, but respect boundaries.

  10. Don’t expect them to be rational or optimistic. Unconditionally give them all the time they need.

Healing is an active process that takes time. After experiencing loss, a person needs to come to learn what living with loss looks like to them. We need to be sensitive and thoughtful along their journey. Anticipate those difficult times / dates and plan to help them walk through it with support, always careful not to communicate expectations of how they should be feeling or dealing with each step of their journey. No one should ever have to walk alone.

“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”

~ Havelock Ellis


Sometimes grief can become chronic and introduce other health problems that make it impossible to function, even after many months. Grief treatment and grief counseling can be an option for someone struggling to overcome grief on their own. No one should be ashamed to seek professional help for grief. Physicians and therapists can offer suggestions to improve coping skills and evaluate an individual for secondary health problems stemming from grief.

The information on this website is intended for general education purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional and/or medical advice.

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