Coping With the Loss of a Loved One

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Coping with loss

Helping someone who is grieving

It’s common to feel awkward when trying to comfort someone who is grieving. Many people don’t know what to say or do. Use the following tips as a guide.

What to say

  • Acknowledge the situation. Example: “I heard that your_____ died.” Use the word “died.” This shows that you are more open to talk about how the person really feels.
  • Express your concern. Example: “I’m sorry to hear that this happened to you.”
  • Be genuine and don’t hide your feelings. Example: “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care.”
  • Offer your support. Example: “Tell me what I can do for you.”
  • Ask how the bereaved person feels and listen to the answer. Don’t assume you know how they will feel on any given day.

What to do

  • Be there. Even if you don’t know what to say, just having someone near can be very comforting.
  • Listen and give support. But don’t try to force someone if they’re not ready to talk.
  • Be a good listener. Accept whatever feelings the person expresses. Even if you can’t imagine feeling like they do, never tell them how they should or shouldn’t feel.
  • Give reassurance without minimizing the loss. Try to have empathy with the person without assuming you know how they feel.
  • Offer to help with errands, shopping, housework, cooking, driving, or yard work. Sometimes people want help and sometimes they don’t. They may not take you up on your offer, so remember they’re not rejecting you or your friendship.
  • Avoid telling the person “You’re so strong.” This puts pressure on the person to hold in feelings and keep acting “strong.”
  • Continue to offer support even after the first shock wears off. Recovery takes a long time.
  • It may help to check in with the bereaved on anniversaries of the death, marriage, and birthday of the deceased, since those can be especially difficult.

If the grieving person begins to abuse alcohol or drugs, neglects personal hygiene, develops physical problems, or talks about suicide, it may be a sign of complicated grief or depression. Talk to them about getting professional help.

If you believe someone is thinking about suicide, don’t leave them alone. Try to get the person to get help from their doctor or the nearest hospital emergency room right away. If that’s not possible, call 911. If you can safely do so, remove firearms and other tools for suicide.


Last Medical Review: 12/14/2012
Last Revised: 02/04/2013