How to Help a Grieving Friend

Grief is a complex and deeply personal experience that can be hard to process. It's not unusual for people to be taken aback by the depth of their grief or even attempt to suppress it.
By illume Editorial Team
Last updated: Apr 5, 2023
7 Minute Read

Losing a loved one is one of the most challenging experiences we all have to face at some point in our lives. It’s an inescapable fact – but one that’s barely acknowledged until a death happens. Naturally, our discomfort discussing a loss often leaves us with difficulty when it comes to navigating grief.

Experiencing loss is deeply personal and everyone grieves in different ways. Intense feelings of pain, sadness and confusion can leave a person feeling lost, overwhelmed and very much alone. As a friend or family member of a person who is grieving, you may feel helpless and unsure of what to do or how to help. It’s important to remember that grief is a process that takes time, and no matter how your friend seems to be dealing with their loss – there are things that you can do to offer support to your grieving friend. 

Build a support system with your friend

Seeing close friends go through the loss of a loved one can be difficult. However, studies have shown that being alone makes the grieving process much harder and longer than it has to be. A bereaved person will benefit greatly from your support throughout their healing journey. The type of support you can offer may differ at each stage of the grieving process. It may also depend on how much you feel you are able to give to your friend too. 

Friends and family have a unique ability to offer support in a way that ensures a bereaved person feels loved and comforted. While you won’t be able to soothe their pain completely, you can help to create an environment where they’re able to show up no matter where they’re at in their journey.

Be there for your grieving friend 

The grief process isn’t linear. There’s likely going to be times when your friend will struggle more than others – especially around the holidays or in the run up to special events. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to simply be there for them – even if it’s just a phone call. 

Make time to be with them, even if it’s just sitting in silence or watching a film together. Don’t force anything, try to distract or entertain – allow your friend to just be. Knowing that they have someone who cares can make all the difference in the world during a tough time. 

Listen to their thoughts and feelings

When your friend is ready, they may start to open up to you about their grief. Providing a comforting environment for them to express themselves and talk through their grief can be incredibly cathartic. Your friend may want to talk about their feelings or they may not. It’s important that you let them set the pace – all you need to do is hold space for what they want to talk about. 

Try not to offer advice and solutions unless your friend asks for this directly. Similarly, don’t try to brighten the mood by putting a positive spin on what they’re saying – it can make your friend feel like their emotions aren’t valid. 

You don’t need to try and relate to your friend either by comparing their situation to your own experiences with loss. Simply just let them know that you’re there to listen to their memories, thoughts and feelings without judgment.

Offer practical help while they’re grieving

During the grieving process it can be difficult to function as normal and get everyday chores done. Offer to help your friend with practical tasks like grocery shopping, cooking meals or running errands. When a person is consumed by grief, these seemingly small tasks can build up. It can quickly make an already overwhelming time simply unbearable. These little acts of kindness can make a big difference. 

Don’t be afraid to offer specific help too. Ask if they need help walking the dog or picking the kids up from school. This takes the pressure off your friend as they don’t need to think of ways you can help them. 

Remember that grief is a process

Grief is a process that takes time. However, there is no set timeline and everyone experiences grief differently. Some days are easier than others and on some days it may feel like your friend is regressing. Be patient with your friend. Understand that they may need time to process their feelings and come to terms with the change that has happened within their life. 

Emotions and memories come in waves which can further complicate the grieving process. Making space for your friend to feel their emotions as they arise instead of suffering in silence will enable the process to work naturally. 

Don’t try to fix their grief. Remember that you can’t solve the grieving process or control when it’s time to move on. It’s not your job to take the grief away – the best role you can play is to support them through the process so that they can heal.

Use the name of the deceased person

Sometimes, people are afraid to mention the name of the person who died, thinking that it might upset their friend. However, using their loved one’s name can help your friend to feel like their loved one is still a part of their life. 

Honoring their memories and sharing stories can help them to adjust to a new phase in their life – accepting the loss but enabling them to still feel connected to their loved one. 

Encourage self-care

Grief can take a toll on a person’s mental health so it’s important to encourage your friend to take care of themselves. This can be especially difficult if your friend is a parent to young children and has recently lost their partner. Putting others’ grief before their own will naturally add pressure to their own grieving process. They may struggle with feelings of guilt and believe that taking time for themselves instead of looking after others is selfish. 

Try suggesting low pressure activities like taking a walk outside or offering to go with them for a coffee or an exercise class. Even treat them to a good book or film that they can settle down to in the evening. 

If your friend is really struggling and you’re not sure how to support them, you can gift them a subscription to the Grief Works App. Simply get in touch with our team and we’ll arrange everything with you for your friend. They’ll be able to take time for themselves around their own schedule and progress through the app at their own pace. Your friend can also join our community and access support from Julia Samuels MBE during our scheduled live sessions.

Remember to take care of yourself too

The death of a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through. It’s important to remember that grieving takes time and that your friend or family member may need your help and support for a long time to come. Ensure you are taking good care of yourself during this time and remember that, while cliche, you can’t pour from an empty cup. 

Find Grief Support with Grief Works by Illume

Getting support when grieving is essential. It can be challenging, but your friend doesn’t have to worry!

The Grief Works app helps people to overcome grief and connect with a community that cares for them. It also offers live monthly calls and the ability to chat with a therapist when needed.

Moreover, it has a built-in journal book for a daily diary and the Grief Works Curriculum to guide your friend in this wonderful healing journey.