It can be difficult to know what to say or do when someone you care about is grieving. You may be afraid of saying the wrong thing or making the person feel worse however while you can’t take away the pain of their loss, you can provide comfort and support. There are many ways to support a grieving friend or family member, starting with letting the person know you care.

Do...

Acknowledge the situation:

"I heard that your_____ died." Use the word "died" That will show that you are more open to talk about how the person really feels.

Be willing to sit in silence:

Don’t press if the grieving person doesn’t feel like talking. You can offer comfort and support just by being there. If you can’t think of something to say, just offer eye contact, a squeeze of the hand, or a reassuring hug.

Let the bereaved talk about how his or her loved one died:

People who are grieving may need to tell the story over and over again, sometimes in minute detail. Be patient, this process is helping process their loss.  

Understand that it will take time for me even to begin to adjust to life without the person they’ve lost:

For many people recovery after bereavement takes 18 to 24 months, but for others, the grieving process may be much longer. Don’t make them feel like they’ve been grieving too long as this can actually make the healing process longer.

Encourage them to get the support they need:

Wessex Cancer Trust specialist counsellors are on hand to help deal with the impact of losing someone. If you think your friend could benefit from our free services, you could offer to visit a support centre with them for the first time.

Don’t...

Don’t make assumptions based on outward appearances: 

The bereaved person may look fine on the outside, while inside he or she is suffering.  Still ask how that person is doing each time you speak to them and don’t presume that they will feel the same on any given day.

Judge someone who is grieving:

Grief may involve extreme emotions and behaviours. Feelings of guilt, anger, despair, and fear are common. The grieving person needs reassurance that what he or she feels is normal so try not to judge them or take his or her grief reactions personally.

Don’t say things like ‘Be strong’ or "This is behind you now; it's time to get on with your life:" 

The person could be feeling vulnerable or not ready to move on. Phrases like this might feel like you’re giving motivation but could actually put pressure on the person to keep up appearances and to hide his or her true feelings.

Support for you

It’s also important to remember that you might need support too. Wessex Cancer Trust helps anyone affected by a cancer diagnosis, including friends, family members and carers so please do get in touch or visit your nearest centre for support.