Grieving Friends: 5 Tips For Helping A Friend Cope With Grief

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated August 8, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Tanya Harell, LPC

There is nothing more hard in life than experiencing a loss. Experiencing loss in any capacity can result in a whirlwind of emotions and pain. Sadness, anger, and pain are just some of those feelings we may go through when we lose something or a loved one. The key to getting through these difficult periods in life 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 or loved one who is coping with the loss on their own. But helping a bereaved person or close friend isn’t always straightforward or easy. You don’t want to say the wrong thing and make things worse, but you don’t want to abandon your bereaved friend either. This article will provide you with some tips on how to help a close friend who has recently lost a loved one.

Understanding Your Friend’s Grief

Want Useful Methods Of Supporting Your Grieving Friend?

If you have experienced the loss of something or someone important to you at some point in life, then you may have experienced grief first-hand. However, it can be difficult for us to help someone who is grieving if we do not know what they are going through. After all, we can’t learn how to help a person grieving 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 It?

Grief is the process that we go through when we experience a major loss in life. This may be a result of the loss of a loved one such as a friend or family member (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 person, but the feelings will often fade over time.

The Stages

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, as every grieving process is unique.

When Does Grief Become Something More Problematic?

As some of us may know, a loss can be quite painful. These feelings, 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). It can be hard to determine if a bereaved person is experiencing complicated grief at first because it is very similar to typical grief. However, complicated grief is primarily defined by how long the bereaved person has been grieving. While most people recover from their grief within a few months or a year, someone with complicated grief will still feel the same intense feelings as when they first lost their loved one. Even after a year or longer, they still struggle to move on in life or create a new normal.

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. A mental health professional, such as a grief counselor, can help figure out why your bereaved friend has been unable to move on with life.

5 Tips to Provide Support

Even if you understand what your friend or loved one is going through, it can still be difficult to find the right words or actions to help them. Many people find themselves in a position of wanting to offer support to their friends in times of grief but don’t know what to say or do. We’ve provided a few tips to help you comfort your grieving friends.

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

The days and weeks immediately following a death or other loss can be the most difficult. It is during this time that someone who is grieving will need the most bereavement support. Though many friends and family members will be there initially, this support will lose momentum over time.

Therefore, one of the most important tips to remember if you are looking to provide support is to reach out regularly. Although your friend or loved one 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. It will feel good to the bereaved person just knowing there is a safe space to talk about their feelings and experiences.

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. For example, a person may exhibit different grief reactions when their husband died as opposed to when their mom died. 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 words 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.

Sometimes, sitting quietly and listening is the best approach because grieving people often just want to talk or vent out their feelings. For example, they may just want someone to know that they feel depressed about their loss or that they feel guilty about how they treated their loved one before their death. Whatever comes up, and in whatever manner, it may be best to just let them vent without interruption or telling them what to do.

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?”

Want Useful Methods Of Supporting Your Grieving Friend?

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.

No matter how you spend time with your friend, be patient with them and make sure to be open to talk about anything. Someone who has just lost a loved one may want to talk about a movie one minute and then their loved one the next. Grieving people can have strong and fluctuating emotions that are hard to control or predict. Grief can overwhelm them at any moment. So just because they are eager to talk about something fun or positive doesn’t mean that their grief has gone away. Be patient and supportive no matter what they talk about, and you will be helping them immensely on their healing journey.

5. Feel Free to Give Them 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 and may not want to talk or spend time with anyone. 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 loved one 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 bereaved person 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.

Online Therapy

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.

Below are some commonly asked questions on this topic:

How do you comfort a grieving friend?
What are some comforting words?
What do you write to a grieving friend?
How do you comfort someone with a word?
What the most comforting word?
What is a good short sympathy message?
What to say to someone who is grieving quotes?
What do you say to be supportive?
How do you uplift someone?
How do you console someone who is going through a hard time?

Helpful mental health resources delivered to your inbox
For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Therapist
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.