You may want to support a friend or family member after the death of a loved one, but not know how. Each person’s grief will be different, and what they need may change as the days, weeks, months and years pass. Here are some things you can do for a bereaved person that may be helpful.
In the first few days
The days immediately after someone has died are likely to be a very emotional time for their friends and family. They may be overwhelmed with grief, or they could feel numb and in shock.
At this time, it can be a great comfort for a bereaved person to know their friends and family are there to offer care and support.
Say how sorry you are
Get in touch to acknowledge the loss and say you are sorry. If you’re close to the bereaved person, you may want to call them. People usually appreciate receiving a thoughtful text message, or you could text first and follow up with a card later too. Bereaved people have told us that getting letters or cards is especially helpful.
Let them know you are there for them
Tell the person who is grieving that you’re there to listen if they want to talk. They may take you up on the offer, say no, or not be ready to respond at all yet. The important thing is that they know you’re there, you care, and you are ready to support them. If the person does want to meet or talk, give them space to share their feelings without trying to fix things.
Share a story or memory
If you knew the person who has died, you may want to share a story or memory about them and the kind of person they were, or even a photo of them from a time you spent together. It’s a good idea to choose a positive story and keep the focus on the person who has died, rather than what you said or did.
Things like this can be a great comfort to grieving family members, but you may need to think about when and how to share them. You could include a story in a sympathy card or message, or tell them when you’re together.
Think carefully before posting stories or photos on social media, and take your lead from what the bereaved person shares online. Family members may not want to talk about their loss publicly, or may not want particular information or photos to be shared with everyone.
Do something practical to help
Those closest to the person who died will be faced with a lot of practical tasks, such as letting people know about the death and arranging the funeral. If it’s appropriate you could offer to help with these things, or suggest other jobs you could do to reduce the pressure on them, such as cooking a meal, going food shopping, looking after children or doing housework.
Send them something
Receiving gifts can help a grieving person feel supported and cared for. People often send flowers to the family, or even plant a tree. You could consider sending something like a hamper of food, some cupcakes, or a voucher for a massage. Another idea is to make a donation to charity in memory of their loved one and let them know.
Support them around the funeral
Even if you didn’t know the person who died, you may still want to go to the funeral to support a bereaved friend or family member. Ask them if they would like you to be there. If you’re not going to be at the funeral, you could send a text on the day to say you’re thinking of them.
Over the next few weeks
After the funeral, people may not know how to adjust to normal life without their loved one. It’s important they know you are still there to support them through the next few weeks.
Keep checking in with them
Don’t be afraid to let the person know you are thinking of them, or send a message just to see how they are doing. When people are grieving they can be more prone to illness, so encourage them to look after themselves, not work too hard and get plenty of rest.
Give them space to talk if they want to
Make sure the person knows you haven’t forgotten their grief, and that you are happy to listen if they want to talk about it. Be open to whatever they are feeling at that time. If they are busy looking after everyone else, encourage them to allow space for their own feelings too.
If their loved one died after a long illness, the bereaved person may be struggling with confusing emotions. They might feel relieved because the person is no longer suffering, and they’re no longer carrying the worry and responsibility for their care. At the same time, they may feel guilty for having these feelings. Help them to understand that relief is a normal emotion and it’s completely OK – it doesn’t mean they don’t care enough or didn’t love the person who died.
Invite them to do things with you
You could ask the person out for a coffee or a drink, suggest going on a walk, or go to see a band, show or exhibition together. If it’s too much pressure for them to make commitments in advance, you could simply invite them to join in activities you will be doing anyway, if they can make it.
If the person doesn’t feel like talking or socialising you could suggest activities where they don’t have to, such as going to the cinema, playing sports like tennis and football, or going to a yoga class. People may turn down or cancel invitations, but still appreciate being asked.
Offer practical help
A bereaved person may still need practical support in the weeks after their friend or family member has died. They are likely to find it harder to keep on top of everyday things like cooking, cleaning and gardening, and there might be jobs the person who died used to do for them. If they need extra financial support, you could help them find out if they are entitled to bereavement benefit.
Help them seek extra support if they need it
If you think someone who is grieving may need extra help, encourage them to join our online community, find a local bereavement support group, or speak to their GP.
During the following months
During the first year after a bereavement, people will be learning to live with their loss. They may start to feel better, and then suddenly feel intense sadness out of the blue. However they are doing, they will still need your support.
Don’t assume they are OK
Sometimes, people appear to be coping after a loved one’s death when they’re actually struggling. Keep checking in regularly, even if it’s just to chat or exchange messages about what you are both up to. Ask them how they are, give them opportunities to talk about things if they want to, and support them to see their GP or a counsellor if they are finding it hard to cope.
Plan activities with them
Keep inviting the bereaved person to do things with you. You could also plan things together for the future, like organising a trip or booking tickets for an event. That way, they will have things to look forward to in the months to come, and will know you will still be there for them.
Support them to talk about the person who died
Bereaved people sometimes find that those around them feel awkward when they talk about the person who died. Remember that the person’s loved one will always be an important part of their life, and try to be open and supportive when they speak about them. If you’re not sure what to say or didn’t know them, you could try asking gentle questions about the person and what they were like.
Some people who are bereaved find it too painful to talk about their friend or relative who died, so take your lead from them about whether to mention the person in conversation.
Be aware of special occasions and events
In the months after a death, a bereaved person will have to deal with things like birthdays, Christmas and holidays without their friend or relative for the first time. There may be other things too, like annual events, or activities they always used to do at a certain time of year.
If you know something is coming up, you could ask the person in advance how they would like you to support them. They may prefer things to carry on as normal, or they may want you to be with them, to help them mark the event in some way, or to get in touch on the day.
In the years after a death
Most people find their loss becomes easier to cope with over time, but some will still be struggling to manage their grief for years after their friend or family member has died. Unexpected things can trigger emotions at odd moments, or they may feel sad a lot of the time.
Let them know they can always talk to you about how they feel, and avoid placing expectations on them to ‘recover’ or ‘move on’ by a particular time. Support them to keep talking about their loved one if they want to, and help them stay active by inviting them to do things they enjoy.
Visit our dedicated section on coping with grief and bereavement.