What to do (or not do)

Grief support is not once and done.

Maintain your support long after the death

We often offer to help in the immediate aftermath of the loss, when, in reality, support is needed long into the months and years ahead. Grief is a process that lasts a lifetime, and grievers will need ongoing support.

Chart that shows that grief support may always be needed. Chart shows the expectation that grief support might be needed for a year, when the reality is that the line of support needed goes on forever.
Find more shareable images on Instagram

Remember others affected by the loss

Grief support tends to focus on one person - typically the one perceived to be nearest the loss. When a family loses a child, support is usually focused on the parents. Siblings, grandparents, other family members, and friends will also need support.

Play Video placeholderNona Perdue: Supporting the Supporters

I know my husband has a hard time with that, and God bless him. He saw me cry a lot and held me when I was crying and falling apart in those first days and weeks. And for him, you know, it was, it was that he didn't want to see me suffer. He loves me so much and he, it hurt him to see me suffer. And, um, a lot of what he did was just be there for me, pick up all of the things that I couldn't do. Um, he was the one who made the hard phone calls.

And, and so I, I think too, that one thing people can do is offer support to, to the grieving person's immediate family and immediate support.

So when someone did something kind for Richard, it, it made me feel so good because I knew he really needed that because he was so strong. When someone did something for Richard, it really touched me because I knew how much he needed that support too because he was so strong for me and was there for me. Um, but the immediate family needs support also. I think that's big.

Play Video placeholderBeatriz McKee: The Forgotten Grievers

As a sibling, I must say everyone asks how your mom and dad are doing. Most of the time is "they must be having a hard time." It's never really directed towards you. It's "how are you feeling? How does it feel to not have a brother anymore? How does it feel to be the single child?" Nobody really addresses that. I miss his voice. I miss his laugh. He had this incredibly funny and just deep voice. So I miss joking with him. I miss being able to send him funny videos and texting and going back and forth. I miss being able to hug him a lot. And just, I miss my brother. I miss having that sibling connection. One of the things that I think about is that my parents are aging and there'll be a point in time when I'll have to take care of them, and to not have my brother to help me through that process or share that process is very lonely.

Grief support is not one-size-fits all

The support you give to one griever may not work for another. Grief is individual, and grief support should be tailored to each individual’s needs. Our individual grief experience is shaped by a myriad of factors:

  • The relationship we had with the person who died
  • The cause of death
  • Our society and cultural background
  • Our personality and coping style
  • Our past experiences with loss
  • Our support network
  • Our religious or spiritual beliefs and customs

Visit our list of support ideas and learn how to offer support.

Acknowledge the loss - don’t disappear

Grief is hard. Grief support is hard. Don’t give up on yourself or your grieving person. Acknowledge their loss.

Because we're so weird and so awkward about grief I think one of the things that can really happen is you say nothing. Saying nothing is a terrible, terrible thing to do to your grieving person. For the grieving person what that feels like is abandonment. It feels like their grief doesn’t matter.

This isn’t an easy situation, but you know, I know so many grieving people who've told me that they've actually seen friends and acquaintances of theirs cross the street rather than interact with them. It makes us so uncomfortable to be around somebody else's pain we will literally cross the street to avoid feeling awkward. What that means for your grieving person is they feel like no one cares, no one remembers; they feel invisible. So, not only have they lost their person but they've lost their people.