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Helping Someone Who Is Bereaving

Seven practical suggestions if your friend or relative has recently been bereaved.
  1. Make a special effort to keep in contact after the funeral.
    It may be tempting to keep away, especially as you probably do not know what to say, but visits and telephone calls are essential.
  2. Be a good listener.
    Try not to steer the conversation yourself but let the bereaved person talk about what they want. Allow, even encourage, him or her to talk about the deceased and listen attentively. This may be difficult for both of you but it will help your friend to come to terms with the death. Do not mind if your friend cries or even you cry yourself - it's perfectly natural.
  3. Avoid making assumptions about how your friend is feeling.
    All bereavements are different. Do not assume that your friend is feeling the same as you, and do not say "I know how you feel". Encourage your friend to express his or her feelings, whatever they are, and try to accept that they are valid. For example, a bereaved person might feel worried, angry, guilty, or even relieved. Try to understand your friend's feelings and do not say that they are wrong.
  4. Remember the importance of touch.
    A bereaved person often feels isolated and it may help to put your arm around them, touch their shoulder or elbow, or hold or shake hands. Clearly, you need to use your discression but touch can be a very effective way of affirming friendship and understanding.
  5. Offer practical help.
    If you can see that your friend needs help then offer to help, or suggest where help can be obtained - do not wait to be asked. It is better to suggest a specific activity. However, be prepared to accept that your offer of help may be declined - you can always offer to help in some other way or at another time. Be careful not to take over - your friend should stay in control at all times.
  6. Refer to the professionals if necessary.
    If you notice a serious problem which seems to be persisting longer than it should, eg. over use of alcohol or drugs, serious self neglect, malnutrition, total inertia or violent mood swings, you could express your concerns to your friend's doctor or, if they belong to a religious group, their minister, priest, etc. They will listen, and may be able to help, but remember that they have a duty of confidentiality to your friend.
  7. Allow plenty of time.
    Grieving is a process which changes over the weeks, months and years, but your support will still be valuable. Anniversaries, such as birthday, wedding anniversaries, and the anniversary of the death may be particularly difficult for the bereaved person - it will help if you are aware of them.