4 min read

How to Support Loved Ones in Grief

I lost my step brother to suicide almost year ago. While I can't even begin to find the words to describe this time or how I feel, I would like to share what helped me get through it. My hope is that these tips may help you support loved ones in the wake of loss.
Written by
Mor Goldberger, MFT, MBA
Published on
September 1, 2023

Create space for them to share about their loved one

Some helpful ways to do that: 

  • Ask "how can I support you best?" or better yet...
  • Offer a specific suggestion: "I was thinking of checking-in with you once a week. Would that feel okay to you?"
  • Another supportive offer is: "Do you want me to come sit with with you a few times? You wouldn't have to say anything, we could just do our own thing in the same room."

Be prepared for someone to respond "I don't know I have no idea I'm dissociated as hell and this has never happened to me before"

Some folks have the experience of thinking of lost loved one all the time and wanting to share about  but not wanting to be a “downer”. If the person is open to you checking in on them you might open conversations by saying something like “if you feel like sharing I’d love to hear about what they were like”. If you’re not trained in the space, its best to avoid questions that may be triggering (like asking about how the person died). Some safe questions include:

  • "tell me about your loved one"
  • “what did you appreciate about the person?
  • “What were some of your favorite memories with the person”

Be prepared: Some folks in grief may be more connected to anger or may have a complicated history with their loved one.

Just Listen

Sometimes supporters of someone grieving are at a loss for words. You might feel like you need to give advice or say the “right thing”. The reality is that simply being with the person as they share feelings makes a world of difference. Your body language will express that you care and you’re listening. Silence is ok but if you feel compelled to say something below are some things you can say:

  • This sounds [insert adjective: tough, heartbreaking etc.]
  • I have no words but Im here for you.
  • I can’t imagine what this is like for you. I love you.

Some folks feel compelled to try to convince the grieving person not to feel guilty, or to help lesson their sadness. Especially with suicide, it is common to express feelings of regret or even responsibility. While it can be incredibly tough to hear someone you care about expressing such thoughts, trying to convince them otherwise may cause them to clam up and keep these feelings to themselves.

Normalize feelings

Despite popular belief there is no “stages of grief” that folks work through in a linear way. Grief looks different for every person and every loss. Someone might feel fine one day, and sad the next. Some people never go through the “angry” or “sad” stage and that’s just as normal as those who do. If someone expresses feeling strange about the way they are processing their grief you can say:

  • It makes complete sense to me how you would feel this way (only say this if this is true!)
  • That sounds really difficult- from what I understand all feelings are a normal part of grief

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