Thoughts on Grief

Your coworker’s mom died, your cousin had a miscarriage, your friend’s brother has terminal cancer. There is no one-size-fits-all advice for seeing a friend through grief. Grief is very individual and everyone will heal in their own way in their own time.  Something that comforts me may bother someone else.  But here are a few ideas that may help in most cases.

Avoid “How are you?” To someone grieving, this is too hard to answer. They don’t even always know how they are, and sometimes, the answer is “horrible” but they don’t want to say that. Instead, try, “I’ve been thinking of you,” “I’m sad for you,” or “We’re praying.”  This lets the person know you care, without having to delve into their own feelings for your sake.

Your friend does not know how to answer “What can I do to help,” and if you say “Just let me know how I can help,” they won’t. Most of us are too self-reliant.  Instead, based on how close you are to the person, just do something. If you’re not very close, some flowers on their desk or a gift card for dinner are things you can do without being intrusive. If you are closer, maybe just go let yourself into their shed and mow their lawn and leave a coffee on the front door step.  If you are the closest of family friends, walk right in, clean their kitchen, scrub the toilet and take their kids to the park.  One caveat though, grieving people tend to get too much food. Gift cards can be used when they need them and don’t mold or take up room in the freezer.

Avoid advice. Well-meaning advice or thoughts that may comfort you may be painful to your friend. Instead, listen to them when they talk about it. If they say something that has been comforting to them, you now have an idea of what to say. For instance, if they say “At least I have my sister,” you know that they are comforted by that idea, whereas “at least you have your sister,” to someone else may sound like you are trivializing the fact that they are losing their loved one.

If their loved one is dying, but not dead yet, the nearer they get to death the less they will want to have visitors. Respect the family’s space, but show you care.  As mentioned above, a coffee on the front step, or a card in the mail are ways to be there without taking up their time and energy.  Often times a monetary gift is extremely helpful too, as terminal illnesses keep the loved one from work and will bring on funeral expenses.  Don’t be offended if the family asks for no more visitors.

You can also offer to set up a meal train. This keeps the family from getting 10 tuna casseroles in one day and then nothing for a week.  Try this website, it’s great:

Lastly, a note to the individual who is grieving. Let others help you. You’re allowing them to be blessed.  If someone asks “what can I do?” say something like; “my garden is full of weeds and my dog hasn’t been walked in a week.”  Don’t get your feelings hurt too easily, people will say the wrong thing, but at least they’re trying!

For some books on grieving here at your library, check out:

It’s Okay to Laugh: BOCD 616.99 PUR

Healing Grief : reclaiming life after any loss: 155.937 VAN

Or for kids

The Memory Box : a book about grief: E RO

~Robin P.