Helping a Friend or Co-Worker Through a Loss

Helping a friend or a co-worker through a loss is not easy. You may feel overwhelmed or frightened, making it difficult for you to assist the bereaved person.  If someone you care about is grieving, you can help by:

  • Listening to them 
    Talking about the loss is a key component of working through grief.  Let the grieving person talk about their memories of the loved one and their own feelings, over and over again if necessary. Remember that the mourner often doesn’t want or need advice, just a sympathetic ear.
  • Offering specific help
    Mourners are usually inundated with the offers of “Call me if you need anything”. However, they often find it difficult to reach out and ask for what they need.  To help, volunteer to assist with specific tasks.  i.e. Can I bring dinner over on Thursday?
  • Allowing the mourner sufficient time to grieve. Recognize that grieving is an individual process. 
  • Being aware of your own needs
    Many people are uncomfortable responding to other people’s open emotions. Be aware that if tears or strong emotions are disquieting to you, you will instinctively move away from a grieving co-worker, and that will make them feel even more isolated.  In order to not increase their feelings of isolation and to respect your own discomfort, consider sending flowers or a card instead of sharing your sympathy.
  • Knowing what to say and not to say
    A simple word means a great deal when a person suffers a loss. Saying the wrong thing hurts less than saying nothing at all.

What to say
“I am sorry to hear about your loss.”
“I heard about your loss. I don’t know what to say.”
“Remember the story you told me about (the deceased).” A simple shared memory is helpful.
“This must be terribly hard for you.”
“I’m here, and I want to listen.”

What not to say
“I know just how you feel.”
“It was God’s will,” or “God never gives us more than we can bear.” “At least she isn’t suffering.”
“At least you have another child.” or “You are still young enough to have another child.”
“You’re not over it yet? It’s been six weeks, two months, etc.”
“You’ll get over it.”

Please avoid the following
No response (Ignoring) i.e. “How about those Redskins?”
Inappropriate questions i.e. “Is your name on the deed?”
A cliché i.e. “The good die young.”
Unsolicited advice