When your friend has experienced the death of someone important to them, it can be difficult to know what to say or do. Many people don’t know how to talk to a grieving friend. You might be worried about saying the wrong thing, causing them to cry or making things worse. In fact, the worst thing you can do is say nothing.
Grief can be very lonely and your friend needs your support. You don’t need to have all the answers, say or do all the right things. The most important thing is that you are there for them. Here’s our advice on how to talk to a grieving friend.
Talk about the person who has died
Many people will avoid talking about death or change the subject when the person who died is mentioned. This can make a grieving person feel isolated and that people have forgotten their special person.
Instead, talk about the person who has died. You might be worried about making them sad but often they will be thinking about them anyway and like to chance to talk about them. You could ask questions – “do you feel like talking about them?”. Or share a memory – “I remember that amazing fancy dress outfit your sister wore to my birthday party”. Or tell them what they meant to you – “I really miss those awful jokes your dad used to tell us”.
Listen and be patient
One of the best things you can do to help a grieving friend is to be there and listen. Your friend might want to share memories, they might want to vent, they might want to cry, or they might want to just sit in silence.
Be patient with your friend. They are experiencing a lot of feelings that they are trying to make sense of. They might want to talk about what’s happened over and over again, or they may not want to talk at all. Let them know that you are there to listen.
Ask how they feel and accept their feelings
Grief can be a rollercoaster of emotions. They might be feeling sad, confused, angry, scared and many other emotions and these can change rapidly. So don’t assume you know how they feel, ask them.
There is no right way to grieve. Don’t tell your friend how they should or shouldn’t be feeling or try to fix it. Let them know that it’s okay to cry in front of you, get angry and shout, or laugh about happy memories. Grief is an individual experience and your friend needs to know that they can express their feelings rather than keep them bottled up.
Ask how you can help
There are lots of practical ways you can help a grieving friend. The easiest way to find out what they need is to ask them.
Maybe you could help with something like getting ready for the funeral/memorial or telling teachers or classmates what has happened. Sometimes it can be difficult to ask for help. So rather than saying “let me know if there is anything I can do” you could make specific suggestions like “I am going to the shop, what would you like?” or “I’m going for a walk, do you want to come with me?”.
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Remember special days
Certain times of the year might be more difficult for your friend. Days like birthdays and anniversaries, milestones like exam results day or getting your first job, or holidays like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Make a note of these days and remember to send your friend a message to let them know you are thinking of them.
Tell them you’re thinking of them
When people are grieving, they can feel very isolated. Sending your friend a message to say you’re thinking of them will show them they aren’t alone. Think about your friend and how they might want you to contact them. A message might be easier than a phone call. Would they like you to drop in or would they find that difficult? Ask them what they would prefer rather than assuming.
Give them some space
Your friend might not want to spend time with other people at the moment or feel up to replying to messages and they might feel guilty about that. Let them know that there’s no pressure and they can reply if and when they want to. Try to strike a balance between keeping in touch so they don’t feel isolated but also giving them space.
Talk about other things too
Yes, your friend will have days when they are sad or angry and want to talk about the person who has died. But they will also have days when they want to laugh and smile and talk about other things. Perhaps you can fill them in on all the drama in your friendship group or tell them about your new favourite Netflix show.
Be there for them for as long as they need you
Often, immediately after someone dies, there are lots of people sending cards, cooking meals and offering support. However, after a while this can stop. Your friend will continue to grieve for a long time so regularly check in on them and continue to offer support.
Help them get additional support
Some people might need extra support. This could be from their school or college or it could be from an organisation like Winston’s Wish. Your friend might not realise that they need help or they might find it difficult to ask for help. They might need you to make suggestions or reach out for them.
If you or your friend want to speak to us, please call our Freephone Helpline team on 08088 020 021 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We can provide advice, support and resources.
If you need urgent support, the Winston’s Wish Crisis Messenger is available 24/7 for free, confidential support in a crisis. Text WW to 85258.