Supporting people who are dealing with grief

Published 10:00 pm Monday, February 13, 2017

We all face losses in life and as we get older the losses that impact us most tend to be those of spouses, loved ones and close friends. Sometimes we choose to avoid visiting those who have suffered a loss because it’s awkward or we don’t know exactly how to act or what to say, and we don’t want to make them or ourselves uncomfortable.

Rather than feeling helpless, there are some “Do’s and Don’ts” that can make an enormous difference when you’re with people who are grieving. Here are five suggestions:

Take the time to listen. Sometimes saying very little or nothing is easier than searching for words especially when there simply are no words to express your sorrow or sympathy. Allow the person you’re comforting some space and don’t think that the silence void has to be filled; sometimes saying nothing, offering a hug or taking his/her hand in yours speaks volumes.

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Don’t avoid the subject of the loss by changing topics. While it may not seem like a compassionate thing to do, allowing someone to deal with and get through a moment of strong emotions is okay. Trying to change subjects won’t prevent the impact of the loss or painful memories. If it’s appropriate offer a hug and share a memory or a thought about the person who passed away.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the deceased person. The person who is grieving is processing the loss. Since the person who died is very much on the minds of those who are grieving, don’t avoid mentioning that person; it’s okay to reminisce about some of the happy, positive things you recall about that person and sharing them can be comforting.

Saying nothing is better than a worn out cliché. Since you’re not actually “walking in their shoes” it’s a good idea not to compare your feelings with theirs. Saying, “I know how you feel” or “All your crying just makes it worse” can be far less comforting than saying nothing or perhaps speaking the truth by saying “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I’m here for you.”

Don’t ask if you can help, just do it.

Often after the loss of a loved one, making even the most routine decisions is asking too much. Don’t ask if you can help, look around and do what needs to be done. Bring in a ready to eat meal, shop for grocery items that are running low, take the dog out for a walk or feed the pets. These don’t sound like much, but to a person in the throes of grief, they can be overwhelming.

These steps are easy to take and when the high emotions of a death are involved, using them as guidelines will allow you to be an effective supporter of someone in grief.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging, Medicare and Obamacare. Ron is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease,” available as a Kindle book on He may be contacted at 828-696-9799 or by email at