This page is for friends and family of someone who has experienced a bereavement.
Death and loss can be difficult to talk about and many people struggle to know what to say when trying to support someone who has been bereaved, even if they are a close family member or a good friend. You may want to help but worry about saying 'the wrong thing'. Here are some ideas of how you might be able to support somebody after a loss.
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.
- Acknowledge the loss and don't avoid contact. It's understandable to feel uncomfortable speaking about death or other losses, or to worry that you might say the wrong thing, but staying silent or not contacting somebody after their bereavement can often make feelings of isolation and sadness worse. Reaching out to the bereaved person so that they know you are available to talk and listen if they would like to can be incredibly helpful.
- Consider how best to be in contact. There are different ways to grieve and there are different ways to communicate after a loss too. 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 is worth asking the person what they'd prefer rather than making assumptions.
- Give them space. Not wanting to spend lots of time with other people or feeling guilty at not acknowledging messages could be an additional burden for a grieving person, so it can be worth letting them know they can respond whenever they feel able, or simply send them a message to let them know you are thinking of them and that no response is needed. Adapting to life after a loss can take a long time and people should be allowed the space to process their emotions for as long as they need. It is useful if you can strike a balance between contacting them so that they do not feel isolated but also giving them space. Again, asking them what they need is a good idea.
For more information and resources that can help you talk more openly about dying, death and bereavement have a look at the Dying Matters website.
When someone shows up with a cast, we immediately inquire, “What happened?” If your life is shattered, we don’t.
- Talk about the person who died. When a person dies it can feel like they are erased from people's memories. While you may fear that talking about the deceased person will just bring up painful feelings, many people actually appreciate the opportunity to talk a bit about the memory of the person, finding this a comfort and a way of integrating the memory of the person who has died into their life, rather than pushing memories away. "What's your favourite memory of [the person who has died]?" or "Tell me about a time [the person who has died] made you laugh" can be useful.
- Focus on listening. Try to respect what the bereaved person is choosing to share with you and focus on listening rather than finding out more. Give the bereaved person space to open up if they want to, while also being sensitive if they would rather not take it further.
- Focus on the bereaved person. Try to keep the focus on the bereaved person rather than coming back to your own feelings about the loss. Unless you have your own experience of bereavement it may not be helpful to make comparisons with your own experiences.
- Help them seek additional support. Supporting someone who is bereaved can be hard work and it is worth exploring what other options for support are out there. If they are ready and interested, help them explore additional support options, such as those listed on our useful contacts page.
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.
Support following a suicide
Similarly, it can be difficult to find the right words when trying to support someone who is bereaved by suicide, but by asking the bereaved person what they feel will help we can offer vital support.
In addition to the above, you may also want to:
- Be sensitive when discussing the death with others. Other people around the family or friendship group may not know about the death so it can be useful to think about and agree how best to talk about what has happened, what details are appropriate to disclose, and with whom.
- 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", which dates back to when suicide used to be a crime.
- Avoid speculating about the suicide. Suggesting or speculating about explanations for a suicide could make somebody feel blamed and also risks over-simplifying what causes suicide.
For more information have a look at our page on bereavement by suicide.