Helping a Bereaved Person

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As part of Dying Matters week, our Bereavement Councillor Beverley Warner offers her expert advice

Death is the one thing that we all experience in our lives, but often it can be difficult to know what to say to someone who is recently bereaved, and you may feel like you’re not sure how to help or look after them. In line with 2017’s Dying Matters theme, we ask, #WhatCanYouDo?

We spoke to Beverley Warner, our wonderful bereavement counsellor, about what her clients have told her is most helpful to them – and what is unhelpful – when they are experiencing grief…


Try not to avoid the bereaved person. Some people feel the urge to cross the road or turn in a different direction in order not to come face-to-face with the recently bereaved person. This can make the person feel isolated and lonely.

When you first see someone after a death, mention their bereavement first. It can come across negatively if you try to avoid talking about it, or act like it didn’t happen.

Remember that it’s OK to not know what to say, and sometimes saying that is all you need to do. If the person isn’t ready to talk about it, that’s fine, too.

Make promises that you can keep. If you tell someone, ‘if there’s anything you need, I’ll be here for you,’ you should really mean it. These kinds of things are often said at funerals, when emotions and motives run high. Frequently, people who are bereaved find that people say this in a kind-meaning way, yet very rarely does help or support materialise.

Additionally, instead of saying, ‘is there anything I can do?’ you might offer to help out with something specific so that it makes it easier for the person to accept the help. For example, helping with cooking, household chores, or taking care of the kids can be a huge relief.

It can be the loneliest time for a bereaved person in the months after the death, so try to keep in touch with them to help them feel that they are not alone. You can also send a card or message on special occasions, as these times can be very difficult after a death. It’s always lovely to know that someone is thinking of you.

We all experience grief differently, so saying, ‘I know how you feel,’ can be unhelpful. It’s not likely that you will be able to understand exactly how the bereaved person will feel, even if you have experienced a something similar. You should also be careful not to make conversations about the person who has died all about how you are feeling and how difficult you are finding it.

Feelings of losing a loved one will always be with you, so it can undermine a person’s feelings if they are told that they will ‘get over it’. Most of the time, you just learn to adjust to life without the person who has died.

It’s also important to remember that there is no time limit on grief. Suggesting to a bereaved person that they ‘should be over it by now’ puts un-necessary pressure on people to adhere to a time limit in which to be ‘over it’. Everyone is different.

Using cliché sentiments or platitudes can feel like you are downplaying a bereaved person’s loss. For example, ‘time is the greatest healer’ and ‘everything happens for a reason’. Also, be mindful if you’d like to express your faith to the person. They may not find it helpful, or comforting, to be told that ‘he/she is in a better place’.

Invite the person who has lost someone to join in with social activities. They may not want to at first, and that’s OK, but they might be very grateful for it one day.

However, telling a person to ‘cheer up,’ although often meant in a kind way, can feel like you are not taking into consideration their feelings. Saying this can actually cause people to withhold their grief, for fear of upsetting and annoying others.

Importantly, you should try not to assume that someone is OK, even if they appear to be doing just fine. Keep in mind that although though it might seem like someone is coping, they may still need help.

The lead up to the death of a loved one can also be an extremely difficult and worrying time for a person, so you might also offer your support then, too. However, although you may feel that you are helping if you try to reassure them that ‘everything will be OK,’ or that their loved one will possibly ‘get better,’ this could downplay the seriousness of the situation – so be sure to keep that in mind.


Being mindful, and helping in any small way, can make a big difference to someone who has lost a loved one, or may be facing bereavement in the near future. Even if it doesn’t take away the feelings they are experiencing, it is very likely that they will appreciate your consideration and compassion anyhow.

For more advice on how to cope with bereavement, and to talk to a member of our team, please do contact Beverley Warner at beverley.warner@stclarehospice.org.uk.

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