How to Talk with and Help Those Who Are Grieving a Loss

How to Talk with and Help Those Who Are Grieving a Loss

"Joy in the Mourning"® Center for Life Losses

Helpful Communication:

  • Acknowledges the loss
  • Encourages the expression of emotions, fears, concerns, doubts
  • Allows feelings to just "be" without judging them as right or wrong

Unhelpful Communication:

  • Tries to "fix"the person
  • Uses "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" in relation to expression of emotions, fears, concerns,


  • Judges feelings and struggles
  • "Robs" the person of the right to grieve

What TO say and do:

DO call them and check on them, not just at first, but even weeks and months later.

DO listen more than you talk.

DO remember and acknowledge important dates over time, especially death anniversaries.

DO call and suggest things you might do to help, not just at first, but even weeks or months later.

(Examples: mowing, running an errand, bringing dinner, babysitting).

DO use the name of the person who died. His or her name is important to the ones who are left behind.

DO give yourself permission to cry with them if tears come.

DO use open-ended statements and questions: "Tell me about…" or "When ________ happened, what was that like for you?"

DO say things like:

"There are no words for this, are there?"

"I don't know what to say, but I care about you."

"I think about you so often and want to be here for you."

"This is the most difficult situation I can imagine. My heart aches for you."

"How are you really doing?"

"I'm here for you. Is there anything I can do for you right now?"

"If you need to cry, it's okay."

"If you need time to yourself, take it."

DO be available.

DO share grief support resources with them (books, support group information).

What NOT to say and do:

DON'T avoid the person who is grieving.

DON'T say or do things that minimize the person's pain.

DON'T tell the person not to cry

DON'T ask, "How are you doing?" and then change the subject or start talking about you!

DON'T say things like:

"I understand just how you feel." (You don't)

"Call me if I can do anything for you." (They probably won't. You need to call periodically to ask them if there is something you can do. Maybe even suggest something.)

"This happened for the best." (How do you know? They certainly don't think so!)

"He's better off now." (Maybe he is, but maybe they aren't because he is gone.)

"Let's be thankful that he is in heaven now?" (Maybe they were not ready for him to go yet.)

"You should never question God!" (Why not? Many people of faith have asked, "Why?" God understands the need to question and can handle it.)

"You'll get past this." (How do you know?)

"You need to stop thinking about it so much; it's time to 'move on'." (They can't "move on" until they can. Telling them to do this is like asking a newborn baby to walk.)

"Be thankful that you have others who love you." (They are thankful. They just still love and miss the one who is gone.)