How to Comfort a Friend After a Death

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The Merriam-Webster dictionary says that to be bereaved is to be “suffering the death of a loved one.” It can be challenging to know what to do in the time of a friend's loss, but what's important is that you offer your support and encouragement. The comforter should be ready to face the number of psychological states caused by suffering and bereavement.

Listen, listen and listen. Listen even when your friend doesn’t say anything. The bereaved may go over and over the last days or some other aspect of his life with the person lost. Just be there to witness it. It's not necessary to say anything other than "it'll be okay," and "we love you." Sometimes the person may not talk, but he will still need someone to just be there. Patience is a virtue in this situation.

Know the five stages of grief. Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist, did a number of studies with people near death. She developed a model, illustrating the stages someone grieving goes through. Her five stages are denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. The comforter should be aware and prepared for these stages, accept them and gently help the bereaved move through them.

Understand that everyone grieves differently. There is no one way to grieve and no prescribed length of time for mourning, notes the University of Rochester Medical Center website. Some people will mourn for decades over a loss and others will have an intense but short period of mourning. Still, others may appear not to be mourning at all, processing the loss in their private moments and in small doses. Don't press the bereaved to feel or behave in a particular way.

Help the bereaved meet their daily needs. Often people in deep grief neglect their own needs, notes Roberta Temes, psychotherapist and author of "Solace: Finding Your Way Through Grief and Learning to Live Again," writing for the website They may not eat or shower. A traditional way of helping someone through the grieving process is by bringing food—enough for a few easy to prepare meals. This gives direct aid and emotional comfort. Another way to minister to the needs of the bereaved is to offer to help pay bills, organize mail, and do simple, household tasks.

Recognize when more help is needed. While most people work their way through the grieving process—and there is no real time limit on grieving—it is important to see some improvement, especially around the area of the bereaved meeting daily needs. If after several weeks your friend still cannot prepare a meal or engage in simple hygiene, there might be a problem. Similarly, if, after several months, your friend has not returned to work or any of her normal routines and her inactivity seems to be creating a problem for her, it might be time to encourage her to see a counselor. You might even consider arranging an intervention.

Move the bereaved to recovery. As the person grieving passes through the worst of the grief, the comforter can help him move forward. The phrase “get back out there,” seems like a cliché, but at a certain point the bereaved does probably need to begin introducing elements of fun and success back into his life. Life is for the living and it really doesn’t do the dead any good for the living to curl up into a ball. Encourage simple steps at first.

Create boundaries. Grieving people may not be sensitive to the needs of the comforter. If she is in a dark pit of despair or need, she might try to pull you in with her. She might cling to the person comforting her as a substitute for the one lost. When offering help decide how much help you are capable of giving financially, emotionally and in regard to time. Stay close to that boundary. Ask for help if the bereaved needs more.

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