How to Support a Friend After the Death of a Loved One


Posted on February 12, 2013 by

Many of us struggle to find the right words to say to a friend or family member who is at the beginning stages in grieving the death of a loved one. If you know someone who is grieving but you are searching for an appropriate thing to say or do, take a cue from Michelle Hamilton, MHC, CT who has offered a few options to support you in supporting them:

1. Use concrete language around the word “death.” 

For example, use words such as “dead”, “death”, or “died” instead of euphemisms like “passed on” or “moved to a better place”.  Directly acknowledging the death helps emphasize the finality of the death, which is an important first step in the grieving process.

2. Extend a Concrete Offer

Instead of offering an open-ended means of support such as, “Let me know if there is anything I can do” or “Call me anytime you need to talk”, extend a concrete offer such as, “Let me come over next week to help you with laundry” or “How about I bring dinner over next Wednesday?” 

The reason behind this is because people do not want to feel like they are a burden and sometimes they do not know how to ask for the help when needed. By offering something specific, you take this burden away from them and can actually support them through big and small tasks.

3.Initiate conversations with your grieving friend

Initiate conversations with your grieving friend by speaking about the deceased. Ask questions about the deceased and the life of the deceased, or if you knew them well, tell a story about them.  This shows your friend that you are willing to hold their hand to the dark place and confirms that you are a supportive presence for them. This also helps breaks the “cycle of silence” around conversations of death and dying.

These 3 options are just a few ways to offer grief support to a friend or family member.

About the Guest Author

Michelle Hamilton, MHC, CT is from the Visiting Nurse Service of NY Hospice and Palliative Care program (VNSNY), the largest not-for-profit home health care organization in the country which provides support to families and friends of patients who are dying or have died as part of their counseling services.

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