What To Say To A Grieving Friend: 5 Tips For Helping A Friend Cope With Grief

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Tanya Harell

Experiencing loss in any capacity can result in a whirlwind of emotions. Sadness, anger, and pain are just some of those feelings we may go through when we lose something or someone. The key to getting through these difficult periods is to have someone who can provide us with support, emotional, or otherwise. Knowing this, you may be looking for ways to lend this support to a friend who is dealing with grief on their own.

Understanding Your Friend’s Grief

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If you have experienced the loss of something or someone important to you, you may have experienced grief first-hand. However, it can be difficult for us to help others if we do not know what they are going through. After all, we can’t learn how to help a grieving friend without objectively knowing what their experience may be. Let’s take a closer look at grief, what grief will look like for certain individuals, and when grief may become something more concerning.

What Is Grief?

Grief is the process that we go through when we experience a major loss in our lives. This may be a result of the loss of someone close to us (which is often referred to when we mention grief) or the loss of something important to us, like a job. When we experience grief, we will often go through an extended period of sadness and other emotions as we yearn for that which we have lost. The duration of this grief will be different for every individual, but the feelings will often fade over time.

What Are The Stages Of Grief?

When we think about grief, we may think of something known as the stages of grief. These stages are presented as five states that we must work through in order to overcome our grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While this model is quite popular, it may not be as accurate as originally presented. These are states that we may experience, but it is unlikely that people go through stages of grief in such an organized manner. Rather, grief is characterized by sadness and longing. As we are coping with grief, we can experience many emotions (and not necessarily in order). It is important to know that your friend’s grief may not follow an easy, measurable path.

When Does Grief Become Something More Problematic?

As some of us may know, a loss can be quite painful. These emotions, however, are perfectly natural, and we can often work through them with the support of others. In some instances, grief can develop into something more serious. One example is complicated grief, which is acute grief often experienced after the loss of a loved one. Complicated grief may come with many of the symptoms of depression (or contribute to the development of depression if the grief is powerful enough). If you believe that your friend’s grief has reached this stage, it is important that you reach out to them and let them know the importance of seeking out professional help.

What to Say to a Grieving Friend: 5 Tips to Provide Support

Now that we have a better idea of what your friend may be going through, let’s take a look at what you may say to help a grieving friend. Here are some great places to start!

1. Reach Out Regularly: “How Are You Holding Up?”

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The days and weeks immediately following a loss can be the most difficult. It is during this time that many will provide the most support. However, this initial support may lose momentum over time. One of the most important tips to remember if you are looking to provide support is to reach out regularly. Although your friend may feel overwhelmed or unsociable at times, knowing that they have someone to turn to when they need it is a major relief. Whether you choose to reach out every other day or every week, stick to a regular schedule and let them know that you are there for them.

2. Find Ways to Help Your Friend Out As They Navigate the Grief Process: “Is There Anything I Can Do for You?”

Providing emotional support is typically the main focus of people looking to help their friends through grief. However, this is not the only way you can offer support. You can also help out a grieving friend by doing things that they may not feel up to doing. For example, you can offer to do little things like make a meal for them or take out the trash. These small gestures mean a lot to those who are grieving. Additionally, it can reduce some of the stress that they are feeling as they attempt to get back to daily life. If you live nearby and you can, consider helping your friend in this way.

3. Listen More Than You Speak: “I’m Here for You.”

We all have different experiences when it comes to grief. This is due to the fact that our loss and the circumstances surrounding it will vary greatly. The way that we cope with this loss will also be different from the way that others cope with it. Because of these variables, it can be hard for us to provide the right advice to others. The solution? Rather than trying to do this, take a listening approach, and be the person with whom they can vent their feelings. If they do ask for advice, then you may want to tell them about your own personal experience. Otherwise, you can let them know that, while you don’t have the answer, you are willing to figure it out with them.

4. Do Fun Things That Will Help Take Your Friend’s Mind Away From Their Grief: “Would You Like to Go Somewhere or Do Something Today?”

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We all have to deal with our emotions in order to get through them. That said, we all want a break from our emotions sometimes. One great way to support your friend is to act as that escape for them when they are feeling overwhelmed. You can do fun things with them like spend the day together, go out for lunch or dinner, see a movie, or even just spend time at their house. No matter what you may choose to do, it can be helpful for your friend to have a way to get their mind off of their loss. This can also serve to build the relationship between you two so that they know they can feel safe opening up to you when they need to do so.

5. Feel Free to Give Your Friend Space If They Are Asking for It: “That’s Okay. I Will Reach Back Out to You Later!”

Giving support to those who are not feeling their best is always a great thing to do. However, you have to understand that some people may feel overwhelmed at times. Rather than welcoming the support as they normally would, they may instead want to be left alone to work through their thoughts. Some people may take this as their friends not wanting support, but this may not be true. Instead, give them the space that they need until they feel ready to socialize again. Just because they are not ready now does not mean they will not need your support in the future.

Another important thing to remember when you’re looking to provide support for a grieving friend is that we may not always be able to give the right support. Their close friends and family will absolutely be a major source of support during this time. While we can listen and be there for them, they may need professional help to get through some of their more difficult feelings. If they are dealing with severe grief or depression, one way to help them is to suggest seeing a counselor.

For the most part, people will have counseling resources near them. If your friend manages to find a counselor near them that they connect to, that is excellent! With that in mind, however, it may not always be easy to find the right resources within a given area. If your friend is having trouble seeking out help, you may want to consider online counseling.

For example, BetterHelp is an online counseling resource that connects people to licensed therapists, from the comfort and privacy of their own homes. Whether your friend is coping with grief as most people do, has complicated grief, or a serious mental health disorder like depression, they can quickly connect with a certified counselor when it is convenient for them.

Helping a friend navigate their grief starts with learning more about what you can do to offer the most support. Use the 5 tips provided above to figure out what your friend may be going through, what you can do to help, and how you can continue to support your friend over time. When in doubt, ask a mental health care professional for more guidance.

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