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How to help someone who is grieving

This page has tips for supporting someone who is struggling with grief.

Mae'r dudalen hon hefyd ar gael yn Gymraeg. This link will take you to a Welsh translation of this page.

Death and loss can be difficult to talk about. Many of us struggle to know what to say when trying to support someone who is grieving. This can be difficult even if we're close to them.

Different people cope with bereavement in different ways. This can sometimes lead to conflict or relationship problems with the people around us.

Try to be patient with each other and remember that we all grieve in our own way. The charity Relate supports people struggling with relationship problems. Cruse also has information on coping with family conflict after someone dies.

These are some ideas for supporting somebody after a loss. You may find that you also need support – see our page on support and self-care for advice.

Acknowledge what has happened

It's understandable if you feel uncomfortable talking about death or other losses. Or to worry that you might say the wrong thing. But staying silent or not contacting somebody after a bereavement could make them feel more isolated.

It can help to reach out to the bereaved person. Then they know you're available to talk and listen, if they want.

Think about how to stay in contact

Receiving text messages may be easier for somebody to manage than returning calls. Dropping in to see them in person may be welcome for some but may be an inconvenience for others. It's worth asking the person what they'd prefer rather than making assumptions.

Be there for them

It's very upsetting to see someone grieving and in pain. It might feel like you need to do or say something to make things less painful. But often what someone needs is simply for us to be there with them, even if you can't fix things.

You could just sit with them in silence. Or send regular messages to let them know you're thinking of them. Or you could suggest something to do together, like watching a film or going for a walk.

I was shocked when friends didn't ask how I was doing. I felt invisible, as if I were standing there but they couldn't see me.

Talk about the person who died

When a person dies, it can feel like they're erased from people's memories. It's understandable to worry about bringing up painful feelings.

But many people appreciate the chance to talk about the person they've lost. It can be comforting or a way of keeping a connection to their loved one.

You could ask them to tell you about a memory of the person, if they feel comfortable doing so. Or you could share a nice memory that you have of the person they've lost. If you can, try to say the name of the person who has died.

For advice on talking more openly about dying, death and bereavement, visit Hospice UK's Dying Matters web pages.

Focus on listening

Try to respect what they choose to share with you and focus on listening, rather than finding out more. Give them space to open up if they want to. But be sensitive if they would rather not take it further.

Focus on their experience

Be mindful of bringing up your own experiences of bereavement. This can sometimes help you connect and empathise. But it can also bring the attention and care away from the person you're supporting. Or make them feel like you're making comparisons.

When someone shows up with a cast, we immediately inquire, 'What happened?' If your life is shattered, we don't.

Help them get support

Grief can be very painful and complex. Some people may benefit from seeking professional support.

If this is something they would like to explore, you could help them do this. See our page on helping someone else seek help for advice. 

Supporting someone bereaved by suicide

It can be hard to find the right words when supporting someone who is bereaved by suicide. But by asking them what they feel will help is a good starting point.

It may also help to:

  • Use non-stigmatising language. When referring to suicide try to use words like "died by suicide" or "took their life", rather than the outdated expression "committed suicide". This dates back to when suicide used to be a crime.
  • Avoid speculating about why someone may take their life. The causes of suicide are very complex and rarely about one single thing. Suggesting explanations could over-simplify things, and make somebody feel blamed.
  • Avoid asking for details. Unless the person you're supporting opens up to you, don't ask for details about how someone took their own life. This can be very traumatic and painful for people to talk about.
  • Focus on the person's life. Try to talk about the person's life and who they were as a person, rather than focusing on how they died.
  • Be sensitive when sharing details. Sharing details about how someone took their own life can be very upsetting or triggering for others. It's also important to only share what the person you're supporting is comfortable with. For example, they may not feel comfortable or ready to tell everyone that their loved one died by suicide.

See our page on bereavement by suicide to learn more about this experience.

With the help of amazing family and friends I have been able to talk about the way I feel myself and have been able to share my experiences with them.

This information was published in December 2023. We will revise it in 2026.

References and bibliography available on request.

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