4 Ways You Can Help Someone Who Is Grieving the Death of a Loved One

Your loved one needs you, whether they admit it or not.
By Mitchell Qualls
April 27, 2021

At the age of 16, I lost my grandmother. She wasn’t the first loved one I had lost, but it affected me differently. My Memaw was my hero; I witnessed her long battle with diabetes and cancer. The grief was complicated. When my wife was 29, she lost her grandmother. They were extremely close growing up, but at the age of 12, my wife moved to this country and only saw her grandmother once over the next 17 years. Her grieving looked much different than mine. She is still grieving the loss.

When your friend or family member loses a parent, grandparent, spouse, child, or another person close to them, their responses may look different, and that’s ok. We all grieve for various lengths of time, sometimes with extreme emotions. Though the process varies from person to person, you can be a source of support and strength as you meet others where they are in their grief.

Here are four ways you can help a friend or loved one who is grieving:

1. Be present.

Be there, and be attentive to their needs. Remember, their grief may look different than yours. Maybe they want to talk about the loved one they just lost. Perhaps they just want to grab a drink and talk about anything else. Maybe they just need you to sit with them as they process. No matter what this looks like for them, be there.

2. Be helpful.

When grieving, it’s often tough to respond when someone says, “Do you need anything?” Many of us say it with the best intentions, though. But the grieving person isn’t thinking about what they need. Look for opportunities to serve them. Cut their grass. Bring them food. Pick up their groceries. Pay close attention to their needs, and don’t hesitate to meet whatever needs you can. If you’re not sure what they need, ask those closest to them. 

3. Be there for the long haul.

Grief doesn’t have a timetable. Some people grieve for a short period; others grieve for years. Again, there is no correct timetable. Be there for your loved one for the duration of their grieving.

If you live close, drop by and check on them periodically. Take them out to coffee or ice cream. If you live further away, mail them cards, call, or video chat. Be intentional about being there for them. They need you to stay engaged throughout their grief. 

4. Be mindful of the potential for depression.

It’s common for a grieving person to feel depressed or lonely. As you remain present and engaged with them, be on the lookout for any signs of depression. Grief may come and go depending on the people present or situation. Depression tends to be more persistent. Be aware of warning signs of depression. 

Here are a few warning signs to look for:

  • Their depression is not centered on the loss.
  • Difficulty performing daily tasks.
  • Excessive anger or guilt. 
  • Withdrawing from others.
  • Alcohol or substance abuse.
  • Talking about suicide*.

If your loved one is experiencing signs of depression, help them get help from a counselor or the Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-8255).

Grief is an uncomfortable process, but it’s necessary. Your loved one needs you, whether they admit it or not. Walk with them through their grief no matter how long the process. Be there for them and love them as best you can.

*If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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