How to support someone who has lost a loved one

Last reviewed on 8 September 2021

Losing a family member or friend can be one of the most difficult things anyone has to deal with. The bereaved person might feel shocked, angry, sad, guilty or, in some cases, feel nothing at all.

There is no normal or ‘right’ way to grieve and how someone reacts often depends on who died and how they died, as well as the bereaved person’s age, experience, personality, culture or religion. There is also no set time frame for when they will start feeling better – it will depend on the individual.

As their relative or friend, you play a vital role in helping them through this difficult time. If you’re not sure what you can do, Good Thinking has put together the following tips. You can also share our advice for adults who have lost a loved one and, if you’re supporting a child or teenager, we’ve also produced advice for young people.

Getting in touch with your relative or friend after they have lost someone can make them feel less isolated and help them on their grief journey. A phone call, text message, card or letter can be a great comfort. If you can meet up in person, that might be even better – if COVID-19 restrictions allow and you’re happy to do it, a hug is often much-needed.

Don’t worry too much about saying the right thing – it’s more important that you say something rather than find the perfect words. Share your condolences and some thoughts about the person who died – for example, you might like to say something along the lines of “They were such a wonderful and kind person and will be hugely missed”.

Remind your relative or friend that you are there for them and give them the opportunity to talk about their memories of their loved one – for example, you could ask them about their favourite holiday together or the times they made them laugh. After a death, it’s common for the person grieving to want to go over what happened leading up to the death many times. Just being there to listen can be extremely helpful.

Perhaps you could collect their children from school or walk their dog? Might you be able to cook some healthy meals for their family? Providing practical support can really help when someone is grieving, especially if the person you are supporting has children or other caring responsibilities.

They might also have new administrative tasks that they now have to manage on their own, such as arranging the funeral or other cultural rituals and looking after a property or household bills. Talk to them about any worries they have about this and, if you can, signpost them to relevant support organisations – you can find a list of useful websites at the end of this article.

Celebrations of life, funeral services and other ceremonies provide an occasion to say goodbye and see other family members and friends. This can help those grieving to face the reality of what has happened and begin the journey towards reconciliation and closure.

Because the COVID-19 restrictions have made it difficult for people to formally commemorate the life of their loved one and hold the usual ceremonies, you might like to suggest an alternative, such as a virtual event or a memory book.

Once again, just listening to your relative or friend talking about their memories can be a powerful way to help.

While there is no set timetable for grief, it should ease over time so that people can move forward. In some cases, however, your relative or friend might still be struggling and might experience complicated grief. They might have trouble carrying out their normal routine, withdraw from social activities or experience depression or guilt, for example.

If this is the case, you might want to encourage them to get support from a specialist bereavement service (e.g. helpline, online forum, counselling, talking therapies). The At a loss website contains a list of services and Cruse offers the opportunity to talk to bereavement counsellors. Bereavement services are available in every London borough so please check your local council website too. We’ve also put together a list of useful websites below.

Supporting your relative or friend could be emotionally taxing on you, especially if you also knew the person who died or you have lost someone else recently. It’s therefore important to be aware of your response to grief and loss in others and make sure you also take care of yourself. The Good Thinking website has a wide range of resources to help boost your mental wellbeing, including free apps, articles and workbooks.

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