Bereavement affects people in very different ways, so there is no one way to help someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. However, there are some simple things that you can do that can really help to make a difference.
Those going through bereavement can feel very isolated. Other people can avoid them because they feel awkward around them or unsure of what to say. Perhaps they don’t acknowledge the death or mention the person who has died when they talk to the bereaved person. This is particularly true in British culture where we’re not used to dealing with or talking about death.
Your bereaved friend or family member needs you to just be there for them, happy to spend time with and talk to them, even if you don’t know what to say. Be normal and be yourself. The person you are supporting is still the same person they were before their loss, and they need friends around to help them as they grieve.
Don’t be afraid to talk about the person who has died, or to share your own feelings of loss and grief. Your friend or family member will love to hear your memories of their loved one and it will help to take away their feelings of isolation.
In the early days they will also need lots of practical support with things such as preparing meals, running errands or collecting children from school. Be specific in the help you can offer, as bereaved people can find it very difficult to function normally or hold to any type of routine.
Everybody is different, and the person who has been bereaved will react according to their personality. You may find that they want to talk and talk about what they’re going through and about the person who has died. On the other hand, they may find talking too difficult and not want to discuss their bereavement at all. The best thing you can do is to give them the opportunity to talk if they need to, but be willing to put a conversation on hold if it seems as though they are finding it too difficult. Take your lead from them. You may find that on some days they want to talk about how they’re feeling, and on other days they would prefer to focus on other things, without referring to their loss.
There is no set time frame for grieving, and so you need to be willing to be there for someone not just in the immediate aftermath of the death, but in the long run. Often, soon after the death of a loved one, the bereaved person will have a lot of support and well wishes from those around them, particularly in the run-up to the funeral. After the funeral has taken place this support can drop off, and it can appear to the bereaved person that everyone else has ‘got over it’ and is now moving on with life. For the person who was closest to the deceased, the weeks and months after the funeral can be very hard, and so they will need on-going support during this time.
Appearances can be deceptive, and you need to be aware that although your friend or family member may seem to be coping well, inside they could be falling apart. Let them know that you’re still there for them as the weeks turn into months and years. Don’t expect them to be ‘OK’ or ‘over’ their loss after a set amount of time has passed.
Grief has no set pattern and is completely individual to the person experiencing it. It will take time for your friend or family member to adjust to their new circumstances and for it to become normal for them. You will need to be patient with them over the coming weeks and months as they come to terms with life without their loved one. Acknowledge how difficult life is for them and encourage them in the small things.
Losing a loved one is possibly the most difficult thing anyone can go through, and having a friend or relative supporting them through it can make all the difference on their grief journey.