With several high profile deaths in the news there have been many media references to grief and what actions help the bereaved. There are no new insights, just reminders on the vital role we each can play in helping the bereaved heal following a difficult loss.

Let’s start with what does not help; avoiding or ignoring the bereaved only makes them feel stigmatized and isolated. If you fear you will say the wrong thing, take the time to practice one or two appropriate things to say:

Always begin by acknowledging the loss:

  • “I was so sad to hear of John’s death.”
  • “I’m going to miss John too.”

Once you’ve broken the ice, when you see them:

  • “It’s so good to see you.”
  • “How are you today?”
    (Please do not ask “How are you?” because you already know how they are; they’re devastated.)

So what can we say or do that will help? As one bereaved daughter said, “Just show up.” Attend the funeral, memorial service, funeral reception, or Shiva. Funeral rituals serve a purpose in helping the bereaved acknowledge and begin adjusting to the death. While your presence is important, don’t stop there. Stay in touch. Connect with phone calls, text messages, emails, Facebook messenger, sympathy cards, and notes. One bereaved spouse shared that on a down day she was heartened by a note from someone who was a stranger.

Make a point to see the bereaved. Make dates for coffee or a meal or suggest a walk. Listen to how they feel and solicit stories. Everyone needs to tell their stories over and over again to make sense of them. Be patient as you play such an important part in the healing process.

Do not avoid your colleagues. When lives feel so out of balance, help them retain their daily rituals. Pick them up their usual coffee or tea and maybe a treat you know they like. Invite them to lunch or surprise them one morning with a plant. Make sure to say hello and check in with them daily. Let them know you are willing to listen, even asking them to share stories about their loved one.

Most important, stay the course. The bereaved need time to heal and with your help and support they will heal and once again, become a part of your life as well.


Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now at a reduced price for e-books for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, lusi

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