Not much has changed in the ten years that I have been writing about grief and loss. There’s still a sense of discomfort in dealing with the bereaved. Friends and loved ones continue to seek the perfect words that will comfort the bereaved. They’ve yet to learn that no one thing that they say or do will make the pain go away.


So what have I learned that may help you comfort your friends and loved ones as they mourn a death? Here are my thoughts:


  • Everyone is unique and so is our grief. We all mourn in our way and in our own time.
  • Just because you have experienced the death of your mom, dad, sibling, or child doesn’t mean you understand what someone experiencing a similar death is feeling or going through.
  • Grief is complicated; our personal experience with relationships and other losses influence how we grieve.
  • It’s important not to stay away because you are uncomfortable or fear you’ll say the wrong thing; grief is isolating and if you stay away, the bereaved are even more isolated.
  • The bereaved are very sensitive so think carefully before you speak.
  • The simplest, safest, and most comforting thing to say is “I am so sorry” with an emphasis on “so.”
  • A caring touch on the arm or a hug goes a long way.
  • It’s so important to stay in touch by phone or in person.
  • All you have to do is say “I’m thinking of you and wanted to check in.”
  • One of the best things you can do is attentive listening. Be patient as the bereaved must tell their story over and over again to make sense of it.
  • The smallest kindnesses are very meaningful whether it is a card, a handwritten note, a postcard, or a phone call.
  • There is no deadline for kindness. The bereaved will appreciate your connection whether it is weeks, months, or even years after a death.
  • The very most important thing to do is to continue to be a part of their life; it’s essential not to forget or ignore the bereaved.
  • Treat the bereaved the way you would like to be treated; one day it will be you.


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 available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "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. Click here to order.


Image: Flickr Creative Commons / sskennel

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Comment by LChandler on January 29, 2013 at 3:12pm

Dear Robbie I truly appreciate your comments. 

A friend of mine lost her husband of 35 years.  He died quickly and didn't have to suffer, but his loss is still fresh.  My husband and I have really tried to give her support.  The anniversary of his death just passed and she talked and talked and talked.  I really appreciate her expressions of their life together.  She keeps expressing her thanks to us for being patient as she goes through this process.  But we are doing what we are supposed to be doing.  We are being friends and giving a listening ear, hugs and whatever she needs. 

Another point you made was regardless of the timing, a card and a call are always appreciated.  Even just saying "just checking in or on you."

Also, one day it will be you...sooooooooooo true.  One thing that really helps me to cope is our Creator's promise that the dead will live again.  They are kept alive in his memory and will be brought back to life.  What a joyous time that will be.

Very good points.  Thanks for sharing.

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