If someone you love is grieving: 7 ways to help them

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If someone you love is having a hard time, you want to help them. But how to do that? 

Being there for someone sounds easier than it is. If they’ve lost a loved one, if their heart is broken or if they have received other bad news, you might feel powerless. You want to help, but you don’t know how. Do they even want your sympathy? 

Supporting or comforting people who are suffering can be difficult. This short guidebook may help you. 

Get in touch 

When this person isn’t in your closest circle, you may not be sure whether to send a message – will they appreciate it? It’s usually better to get in touch, than to remain silent. It’s an easy thing to do and it might mean a lot to the other person. 

Don’t make it too complicated 

You don’t need to be an expert in the area of grief or broken hearts. If you don’t know what to say, just tell them: ‘I don’t know what to tell you, but I’m thinking of you.’ The most important thing is to make them feel seen and supported, it’s not about giving them the perfect answer or advice.  

Just listen 

If you’re talking to the sad person, make sure you’re really listening. You might feel a bit awkward and you might be searching for answers or solutions, for important insight. But usually, a sad person just wants to be heard. Allow them to tell their story, or just be together – that’s more supportive than unsolicited advice. 

Ask questions 

Maybe you don’t want to ask too many questions about their grief. Because you’re scared of what they’re going to say, or because you don’t want to remind them of a painful thing. However, they are probably perfectly able to tell you what they do and don’t want to talk about. Ask questions: it shows that you’re interested. Let them tell you what needs to be told. And respect them if they don’t want to answer. 

Bring them food 

When someone’s in a crisis, they probably don’t feel like eating. By bringing them a healthy home-made meal, you’re really helping and you show you care.  

Ask what they need 

Are there certain domestic chores that need to be done? People or organizations you can call for them? Or would they like you to get some groceries? Your practical help will be appreciated, especially if this person has a family (after all, children require time, care and attention). Because most people find it difficult to ask for help, it’s best to offer help in a specific, concrete way. Like: ‘I can pick up the kids from school tomorrow and take them to the playground, so you can have some time to yourself.’

Keep checking in

Life goes on, and it usually does before someone has processed the grief. Don’t forget about them; get in touch even after weeks and months. That’s how you show you haven’t forgotten about their grief, and they won’t feel alone.  

Text: Joanne Wienen - Photo: Priscilla Du Preez