Help Someone Who Is Grieving

Rosemary BranchIt’s hard to know what to say and do when someone you care about is grieving. We’re glad you’re here to learn more about it, though. The world needs more compassionate helpers like you.

One of the most important ways you can help is to learn about the grief experience; the more you know, the less likely you are to unknowingly perpetuate some of our society’s harmful misconceptions about grief and healing. We invite you to start by reading up on the fundamentals of grief and mourning on our Grief page.

You might also find it helpful to explore some of the articles listed in the right-hand column. In addition, our Bookstore is chockfull of Dr. Wolfelt’s compassionate books about healing and helping in grief.

You may also be interested in hearing Dr. Wolfelt speak, attending one of his trainings, or finding a grief counselor near the griever who has been trained by Dr. Wolfelt.

Next, consider your role as helper. The best ways to help the griever are by:

Listening: Helping begins with your capacity to be an active listener. Your physical presence and desire to listen without judgment are critical helping tools. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on listening to and empathizing with the words that are being shared with you.

Having compassion: Give the griever permission to express her true thoughts and feelings without fear of criticism. There are no right or wrong feelings; whatever she is thinking and feeling is precisely what she needs to think and feel. Don’t try to take her feelings away by judging them, denying them, or offering simple solutions. Also, never say, “I know just how you feel.” You don’t. Not exactly. Think about your helper role as someone who walks alongside the person who is mourning.

Understanding the uniqueness of grief: Keep in mind that each person’s grief is unique. While it may be possible to talk about similar thoughts and feelings shared by grieving people, everyone is different and shaped by experienced in their own particular lives.

Being patient: The grief process takes a long time. Allow your loved one to proceed at his own pace.

Being there: Your ongoing and reliable presence is the most important gift you can give to someone who is grieving. While you can’t take the pain away (nor should you try to), you can honor it and bear witness to it by being there for him. Remain available in the weeks, months, and years to come. Remember that the griever may need you more later on than at the time of the death.

Being a helper in grief isn’t easy. It may test your patience, your character, your fortitude—and your deepest reserves of compassion. But it is also one of the most rewarding roles you can undertake in this life. Helping a fellow human being heal and go on to live and love fully again—what could be more meaningful than that?