Your friend may relate the same story about the death over and over again. Listen
attentively each time. Realize this repetition is part of your friend's healing process.
Simply listen and understand.
Give your friend permission to express his or her feelings without fear of criticism.
Learn from your friend; don't instruct or set expectations about how he or she should
respond. Never say, "I know just how you feel." You don't. Think about your helper
role as someone who "walks with," not "behind" or "in front of" the one who is
Allow your friend to experience all the hurt, sorrow and pain that he or she is feeling at
the time. Enter into your friend's feelings, but never try to take them away. And
recognize that tears are a natural and appropriate expression of the pain associated with
Words, particularly clichés, can be extremely painful for a grieving friend. Clichés are
trite comments often intended to diminish the loss by providing simple solutions to
difficult realities. Comments like, "You are holding up so well," "Time heals all
wounds," "Think of all you still have to be thankful for" or "Just be happy that he's out
of his pain" are not constructive. Instead, they hurt and make a friend's journey
through grief more difficult.
Understand the uniqueness of grief.
Keep in mind that your friend's grief is unique. No one will respond to the death of
someone loved in exactly the same way. While it may be possible to talk about similar
phases shared by grieving people, everyone is different and shaped by experiences in
their own unique lives.
Because the grief experience is also unique, be patient. The process of grief takes a long
time, so allow your friend to proceed at his or her own pace. Don't force your own
timetable for healing. Don't criticize what you believe is inappropriate behavior. And
while you should create opportunities for personal interaction, don't force the situation
if your grieving friend resists.
Offer practical help.
Preparing food, washing clothes, cleaning the house or answering the telephone are just
a few of the practical ways of showing you care. And, just as with your presence, this
support is needed at the time of the death and in the weeks and months ahead.
Your presence at the funeral is important. As a ritual, the funeral provides an
opportunity for you to express your love and concern at this time of need. As you pay
tribute to a life that is now passed, you have a chance to support grieving friends and
family. At the funeral, a touch of your hand, a look in your eye or even a hug often
communicates more than any words could ever say.
Don't just attend the funeral then disappear, however. Remain available in the weeks
and months to come, as well. Remember that your grieving friend may need you more
later on than at the time of the funeral. A brief visit or a telephone call in the days that
follow are usually appreciated.
Write a personal note.
Sympathy cards express your concern, but there is no substitute for your personal
written words. What do you say?
Share a favorite memory of the person who died.
Relate the special qualities that you valued in him or her. These words will often be a
loving gift to your grieving friend, words that will be reread and remembered for years.
Use the name of the person who has died either in your personal note or when you talk
to your friend. Hearing that name can be comforting, and it confirms that you have not
forgotten this important person who was so much a part of your friend's life.
Be aware of holidays and anniversaries.
Your friend may have a difficult time during special occasions like holidays and
anniversaries. These events emphasize the absence of the person who has died.
Respect this pain as a natural extension of the grief process. Learn from it. And, most
importantly, never try to take away the hurt.
Your friend and the family of the person who died sometimes create special traditions
surrounding these events. Your role? Perhaps you can help organize such a
remembrance or attend one if you are invited.
Understanding the importance of the loss.
Remember that the death of someone loved is a shattering experience. As a result of
this death, your friend's life is under reconstruction. Consider the significance of the
loss and be gentle and compassionate in all of your helping efforts.
"While the above guidelines will be helpful, it is important to recognize that helping a
grieving friend will not be an easy task. You may have to give more concern, time and
love that you ever knew you had. But this effort will be more than worth it. By
'walking with' your friend in grief, you are giving one of life's most precious gifts -
About the Author
Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is a noted author, educator and grief counselor. He serves as
director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado and
presents numerous workshops each year across North America. Among his many bestselling
books are "Understanding Your Grief", "Healing a Friend's Grieving Heart" and
"The Mourner's Book of Hope". For more information visit the website:
centerforloss.com or phone 970-226-6050. You can reach out to Dr. Wolfelt directly at