How to be There: Helping Friends in Times of Need

by Kate Branum 

Grief is never linear, and everyone experiences it differently. The truth is, most of us don’t know how to handle grief, especially when it plagues someone close to us. It can be difficult to know what to say or how to comfort someone dealing with the loss of a loved one. Here are a few simple and sincere ways you can show support for someone coping with loss.

Just Be Present

You don’t need to say the right thing; in fact, you don’t necessarily have to say much at all. Offer to sit and listen, and don’t be afraid of silence. It may not feel like you’re doing much, but your presence alone may be a huge comfort.

“You can’t fix it, and you can’t change it, but you can offer support. There’s a lot to be said about being present,” Annemarie Anderson, grief coordinator at Spectrum Health Hospice, explained.

Let Go of Expectations

Grief doesn’t follow a timeline and often comes in waves. Remember that everyone deals with loss in their own way.

“One of the things that a lot of people in my grief support groups talk about is how frustrating it is that friends and neighbors make comments about how they must be doing better by now,” Anderson pointed out.

Try not to take closed-off behavior to heart. Grief comes with ups and downs and can cause a drastic shift in mood at any moment.

Run Errands

Those coping with loss may feel as though the world has been put on pause for a while, but life doesn’t stop, and weekly tasks must still be done. Offer to run necessary errands such as grocery shopping, mowing the lawn, walking the dog or watering the garden. Taking care of everyday tasks allows the family time to grieve and handle the responsibilities that come with readjusting their lives.

Watch the Kids

Grief affects the whole family, including children who may be too little to understand what has happened. Planning a memorial and a funeral is emotionally draining, and those who have children may need a last-minute babysitter while they get all of the details in order. Offer to take the kids out for the day, or plan to spend some time with them at home.

Clean Up 

Maintaining a clean house may seem like a large feat to someone facing grief, especially in the first few months after a significant loss. Offer to help with small, essential chores, such as sweeping floors, dusting, vacuuming or doing dishes. Be mindful of personal items around the house, and always ask before moving or washing them, some of these items may hold sentimental value or familiar, comforting scents.

“It’s always good to keep eyes and ears open and offer to do things, but you never want to just step in a take care of anything for them without their permission,” Anderson emphasized.

Deliver a Meal

Cooking probably isn’t at the top of the list for someone in the process of grieving, especially during the initial shock of a recent loss. Bring over a nutritious, comforting meal for the family or individual in non-returnable or Tupperware.

Send a Heartfelt Note

Pick out a simple card and leave a sincere, to-the-point message expressing your sympathy. Let the person know that you are available if needed and that your thoughts are with them and their family. Sending a personalized note is a simple and genuine way to show support. Try to remember important dates, such as the birthday or anniversary of the person who passed away and send a note.

Leave Money

Someone who is coping with loss may need some time off of work, could be struggling to pay for the funeral cost or simply might not feel up to making a trip to the bank. Don’t be afraid to help out financially. Most people won’t ask for money, and may even scold you for suggesting it; send cash in a card or leave it in an envelope on their counter.

Keep the Memory Alive

Anderson notes that one of people’s biggest fears after a loss is that their loved one will be forgotten. Don’t be afraid to talk about the good times or share interesting stories and funny anecdotes.

“People could learn something about their loved one that they didn’t know before, and that’s very valuable to them,” Anderson said.

Kate Branum

Aside from studying journalism at Grand Valley State University and interning at WLM, Kate Branum enjoys writing, reading and all things art. Reach out to her at:



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