NHS Lothian

Helping a loved one cope with loss and bereavement

3 min read

It can be difficult to know what to say or do when your loved one is coping with loss and bereavement. It’s normal to feel awkward or to worry that you’ll make things worse, but don’t let this stop you from being there for them. Here are a few tips that can help:


Talk and listen

One of the most helpful things you can do is just to listen. It can be hard to have conversations and to know where to start, but it’s important to let your loved one know that you’re thinking about them. While you can’t fix their grief, you can support them through it and listening to them is one the kindest things you can do.

Initially it might be hard for your loved one to talk about what happened, or they might want to go over it again and again. Both are part of the grieving process and as time goes by the chances are that there’ll be times they will want to talk about the person who died.  Be there when they want to talk and take time to share their memories.


Offer practical help

Practical, day-to-day tasks can feel overwhelming when you’re grieving, so your loved one may find it hard to make decisions or concentrate on specific tasks. Rather than saying “let me know if you need anything”, make specific suggestions that don’t require the person to ask for help. For instance, offer to bring dinner round or to do their grocery shopping, or pick up the kids from school.

If the person who died was a carer for your loved one, they may need extra support. It may be helpful if you find out about organisations or support that may be available to them and then share that information with them. Don’t push them to do anything with the information, but just make sure that they have it.


Consider the wider context

Although grief is a universal experience, people from different cultures, beliefs systems and religions have different ways of making sense of death, and different traditions and rituals to help them cope with their loss. Also be aware that factors such as health, disability, gender and sexuality might affect your loved one’s experiences. They may have had a complex relationship with the person they’ve lost and this might make their grieving process more complicated.


Grief doesn’t go away

With time, your loved one will feel less overwhelmed by their grief. However, remember that the grief and pain won’t have gone away completely.  They’ll still have difficult times missing and remembering the person they’ve lost, even decades later. Important dates, such as birthdays, celebrations and holidays can be particularly painful, so be there for them at those times. It will mean a lot.


Be understanding

Throughout the grieving process your loved one’s needs will change, so it is unlikely that you’ll always get it right. Be there for them though and keep checking on their needs.

They may be more irritable or angry than usual and even though you haven’t said or done anything wrong, they may act as though you have. So be patient.


Provide information on useful services

There’s no timeline or deadline for grief. Similarly, there are no set stages or phases. However, if after several months your loved one seems unable to cope or is getting no pleasure from any of the things they used to enjoy, then they may need some extra help.

If this is the case, have a look at the information on local and national services in the ‘Support’ section of this website.


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