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How to Offer Support to Someone Who is Experiencing Grief

August 11, 2023

National Grief Awareness Day is August 30. This awareness day was created in 2014 by Angie Cartwright after she had experienced the loss of a sister, her husband, and her mother. She wanted to start a larger conversation about how grief manifests and about the uniqueness of grief as a process. August 30th was chosen because it was Angie’s late mother’s birthday.

How do you support someone who is grieving? It truly depends on the person and their needs.

The Different Types of Grief

A person can experience grief for more reasons than just death. And there are many ways that grief can affect someone. Knowing the different types of grief can help you better support the person who is grieving.

A few types of grief include:

  • Personal loss – Death, breakups, family estrangement, etc
  • Loss of health – Issues with physical or mental well-being due to illness or injury
  • Financial loss – Changes to economic status or stability
  • Loss of worldview – Separating from a belief or social system
  • Loss of safety – Experiencing violence or another type of trauma
A grandfather with his two grandchildren. They are seated together on a couch and are in a big group hug.

How Grief Can Manifest

Even if they’re experiencing the same type of grief, the grieving process can look different for each person. Grief can cause feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, irritation, and perhaps relief.  Physical symptoms include changes in sleep patterns, appetite, weight, and illnesses. But there are many other ways it can show up. And they may not be the same way that you would grieve. In addition, these symptoms can appear days, weeks, months, or even years after a loss, and can resurface at any time. 

Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Yet, there are things that can be done to start letting go of grief, regardless of the trigger or how it manifested. 

How to Offer Support to Someone Experiencing Grief

You can’t fix everything and take away someone else’s grief. But there are a few things you can do:

Talk about it. Don’t be afraid to mention the reason for grieving, especially if it involves a person who passed away. Saying their name, rather than avoiding discussions of them, can help with the grieving process. Saying how much you’ll miss the person and sharing a memory of them is much better than, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Offer hope. You can acknowledge that there is no quick and easy way to get through it. But you can also affirm your belief that things will improve for the person. Be genuine in your optimism, though, and not superficial or over-the-top.

Help out. Be specific when asking if they need help. Ask if they would be open to you bringing over dinner. Offer to clean around the house so they don’t have to worry about it. See if you can assist by being a babysitter or a dog-walker for them. Having specific tasks you’re willing to help with can be helpful to the person grieving. Avoid asking, “do you need anything?” because it could burden them with extra decisions.

Be flexible. For some, distractions such as game nights or dinner dates can help bring normalcy back to a difficult time. However, build in a loophole when inviting the person: “We would love to have you join us. You don’t have to decide until the last minute, if you want some time to think about it.” If they choose to cancel, offer to reschedule at a later date.

Avoid judgment. Let them grieve and heal at the pace that feels right. Be an open and supportive listener as they move through the grieving process.

Coping With Grief Doesn’t Always Mean Eliminating It

Keep in mind that healing isn’t linear and people grieve in different ways. In some cases, the reason for grief may be a life-long change. The grief could resurface or present in different ways down the road. Coping with grief doesn’t always mean eliminating it. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is support them as they learn to live with grief in a healthy way. 

A Caucasian man with salt-and-pepper hair is talking to a red-haired woman off to the side. She is mostly off-screen but her hand is gently touching his shoulder. He looks relieved.