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Supporting someone who is bereaved

Some do's and dont's.

It can be daunting when someone you know is bereaved; it can be hard to know what to do or say. We can feel helpless, and afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. With this in mind I thought it might be helpful to put down a few pointers, based on my own and my clients’ experiences.

  • Do ask how they are, and mean it. Genuinely want to know the answer to this question, and give them the time and space to answer.

  • Be practical. The first few days after a death, particularly if it’s sudden, can feel unreal. Everyday activities can be put on hold. Do some shopping for everyday essentials. Make a meal, which can be frozen if not needed immediately, or heated up easily.

  • Don’t say ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help’. Whilst no doubt well-meant, and said with the best possible intentions, the chances are the bereaved person will be feeling too shell-shocked and numb to be able to come up with any ideas on this one. Instead, be pro-active. Come up with suggestions of things that you can do which might be of help – shopping, giving lifts, baby-sitting.

  • Don’t assume that after a few weeks everything will return to normal. For many people, the worst time is the weeks after the funeral, when life has returned to normal for everyone else. This can be when the reality of the death hits home; as the weeks progress the reality that that person is not coming back hits hard. Continue to offer support weeks and months after the death.

  • Be sensitive to their needs. Sometimes they may not want to talk about how they’re feeling, and too many questions on this may feel intrusive. At other times, they may welcome the opportunity to talk. Ask how they are, but take your cues from them. Be sensitive to the fact that often people will say they’re fine, not because they are, but because they feel they can’t keep talking to you about how bad they’re feeling – let them know you’re OK for them to be honest with you – and mean it!

  • Be patient. Sometimes, people will repeat the same details and information, particularly if the death is sudden or shocking. They can seem in an endless repeating loop. Stay with them and listen, and keep reassuring if necessary.

  • Look after yourself. Supporting someone who is in midst of raw grief can take its emotional toll – make sure you remember  to check how you are coping, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, take time out to do some of the things you enjoy. You need to re-charge, so that you can continue to support .


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