Main Menu

  • Fact Sheet: Grief and Bereavement


    It can be tough to know what to say or do when someone you care about is grieving. It’s common to feel helpless, awkward, or unsure. You may be afraid of intruding, saying the wrong thing, or making the person feel even worse. Or maybe you feel there’s little you can do to make things better.

    While you can’t take away the pain of the loss, you can provide much-needed comfort and support. There are many ways to help a grieving friend or family member, starting with letting the person know you care.

    As the shock of the loss fades, there is a tendency on the part of the griever to feel more pain and sadness. Well-meaning friends may avoid discussing the subject due to their own discomfort with grief or their fear of making the person feel bad. As a result, people who are grieving often feel more isolated or lonely in their grief.

    People who are grieving are likely to fluctuate between wanting some time to themselves and wanting closeness with others. They may want someone to talk to about their feelings. Below are some ways that you can help a friend experiencing loss.

    • Be a good listener
    • Ask about their feelings
    • Just sit with them
    • Share your feelings
    • Ask about their loss
    • Remember the loss
    • Make telephone calls
    • Acknowledge the pain
    • Let them feel sad
    • Be available when you can
    • Do not minimize grief
    • Talk about your own losses


    It is common to feel awkward when trying to comfort someone who is grieving. Many people do not know what to say or do. The following are suggestions to use as a guide.

    • Acknowledge the situation. Example: "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.
    • Express your concern. Example: "I'm sorry to hear that this happened to you."
    • Be genuine in your communication and don't hide your feelings. Example: "I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care."
    • Offer your support. Example: "Tell me what I can do for you."
    • Ask how he or she feels, and don't assume you know how the bereaved person feels on any given day.

    Source: American Cancer Society


    • "I know how you feel" One can never know how another may feel. You could, instead, ask your friend to tell you how he or she feels.
    • "It's part of God's plan" This phrase can make people angry and they often respond with, "What plan? Nobody told me about any plan."
    • "Look at what you have to be thankful for" They know they have things to be thankful for, but right now they are not important.
    • "He's in a better place now" The bereaved may or may not believe this. Keep your beliefs to yourself unless asked.
    • "This is behind you now; it's time to get on with your life" Sometimes the bereaved are resistant to getting on with because they feel this means "forgetting" their loved one. In addition, moving on is easier said than done. Grief has a mind of its own and works at its own pace.
    • Statements that begin with "You should" or "You will" These statements are too directive. Instead you could begin your comments with: "Have you thought about ..." or "You might ..."

    Source: American Hospice Foundation

    Don’t let discomfort prevent you from reaching out to someone who is grieving. Now, more than ever, your support is needed. You might not know exactly what to say or what to do, but that’s okay. You don’t need to have answers or give advice. The most important thing you can do for a grieving person is to simply be there. Your support and caring presence will help them cope with the pain and begin to heal.