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Helping a Friend in Grief

small gift box that holds a gift card

Sympathy Gifts You Can Mail

By Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

If someone you know has recently suffered the loss of a loved one, it’s natural to want to offer comfort and support. In fact, it’s a good thing. It shows that you’re thinking of them and understand they are going through something hard right now. But what if you’re too far away to offer in-person support? You can still let them know you care by sending sympathy gifts through the mail!

Today, let’s talk about some gift options you can easily send through the mail to offer support and love to a grieving friend or family member. But remember – this list isn’t comprehensive! Feel free to come up with your own creative ideas.

food gift basket with bread, pasta, and daisies

Food Gift Basket

You may not live close enough to drop off a casserole at your friend’s home, but you can order a food basket for them. There are so many companies out there that specialize in food baskets. Whether you want to send fruit, sweets, savories, or a mix, you are sure to find a basket that fits your own expectations and budget while also matching your friend’s favorite eats.

small gift box that holds a gift card

Gift Card

Whether you want to help with meals, gas, or other household needs, you can send a gift card through the mail. Choose their favorite eatery, grocery store, or gas station. Or, if you want to give them broader options, send an Amazon or Visa/Mastercard gift card. In a similar vein, you can give them gift cards to Door Dash, GrubHub, or some other food delivery service, so they can order a meal without having to leave the house.

woman lying in bed with blanket on top of her

Weighted Blanket

After a loss, sleep can be elusive. Stress, racing thoughts, and strong emotions can keep you awake at night. However, many people praise weighted blankets for their ability to calm anxiety and fight insomnia. These blankets work through deep pressure stimulation – applying pressure over the entire body in a way that creates a sense of comfort and calm. Most are available in weights from 5 to 30 pounds, and it’s recommended to purchase a blanket that is roughly 10% of the person’s body weight.

older person planting a pink hydrangea outside

Flowers or Seed Kits

For many years, flowers have been a staple gift to those who are grieving. They are an excellent way to bring life and beauty to a home and to let someone know you are thinking of them. Another plant gift alternative is to give a flower kit (like for roses or hydrangeas) or a memorial tree kit. Each of these gifts will allow the grieving person to watch the plant grow over time and act as a sweet reminder that their loved one is not forgotten. They can even put a little plaque near the tree or plant that says “In Memory of” to make it more special.

book wrapped in brown paper with lavender tied to it

Grief or Self-Care Book

With this gift, you do have to be sensitive. If possible, choose a book that has helped you personally. Whether you choose a book about grief or a book on self-care, there are many options out there. And if you aren’t familiar with a book, check out online reviews or ask family and friends what books helped them through a loss. Then, with a thoughtful note, mail the book to your grieving friend.

two cups of green tea sitting on wooden table

Calming Tea & Mug Set

Sitting down at home with a hot cup of non-caffeinated tea, wrapped up in a blanket with a good book or TV show can have a truly calming effect. And after the death of a loved one, there’s so much that may cause stress, worry, doubt, and confusion. According to research, tea has a calming effect on the nervous system, helps reduce stress and anxiety, and promotes a feeling of well-being. Some of the most calming teas are chamomile, lavender, mint, rooibos, and green tea. Pair a tea with a cute or inspirational mug, and you have a caring sympathy gift you can mail.

homemade spa set with candles, oils, soap, and pink flowers

Homemade Spa Set

If your grieving friend adores relaxing in the bath, a homemade spa set may be the perfect sympathy gift. Put together a smattering of bath bombs, aromatherapy candles, and scented Epsom salt to create the perfect self-care package. You could also include their favorite beverage or a relaxing playlist of songs. And if you just don’t know what items to select, you can also choose a spa gift set online and have it delivered right to their door.

man in blue shirt opening a box while sitting on his couch

Sympathy Gift Box

Just as there are many food gift boxes out there, many companies specialize in creating sympathy gift boxes. All you have to do is type “sympathy gift box” into your search browser and a multitude of options will pop up. Some boxes focus on food, self-care, calming or creative activities, or even humor and laughter. Simply choose a gift box that fits your grieving friend’s personality and send it to them.

woman sitting on couch as she worked on colorful portrait

Hand-drawn Portrait

While this gift will take more time, effort, and talent, it also has the potential to be deeply meaningful. If possible, find an image online of the person who has died and then hand-draw or paint a portrait of them. Choose whatever size or medium you prefer and go to work creating something truly unique. When your grieving friend opens the package, there will be tears, of course, but there will also be sweet memories that bring comfort and healing.

young boy sitting at home hugging a light brown teddy bear close

Stuffed Animal

For some adults and definitely grieving children, a stuffed animal brings a smile. Many people have an affinity to a certain type of animal, which makes it the perfect sympathy gift. Some love teddy bears, unicorns, cats, bunnies, or red pandas – simply go to the store or online and find the stuffed toy that makes the most sense. Then, when feelings of grief come, your friend can look at the animal, give it a hug, and remember that you care.

picture of grandfather and grandson in a photo frame covered in gold stars

Special Photo & Frame

Sometimes the simple things can mean the most. By purchasing a personalized frame and pairing it with a sweet photo, you can create an impactful gift. Choose a photo you know the grieving person loves or send them a photo they may not have. Include yourself in the photo, when possible, but keep the focus on your friend and their lost loved one. Add your own special touch with a handwritten note of love and support.

themed adult coloring book that woman is coloring in

Themed Gift Box

While you can certainly find themed gift boxes online, you can easily create your own. Let’s say your grieving friend loves pineapples. Go to the store or online and find all the pineapple things you can. Pineapple hand towels, soaps, dried fruit, stuffed toy, flavored tea, mug, bathrobe, whatever. Then put everything in a box with pineapple tissue paper and card. When your friend receives it, they will find comfort in the time you took to create the perfect package, tailored to them.

No matter what sympathy gift you choose to mail, the key is to find something that’s personal, practical, and comforting. Think about what your grieving friend likes and choose something that will benefit them most. If you don’t know them well, choose something that would comfort you personally. They will still feel the sentiment and know that you care about what they’re going through.

What Should I Say to Someone Who is Grieving?

By AfterCare, Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

Let’s be honest, it’s hard to know what to say to someone who is grieving. It’s not because they are difficult to talk to or that you’re a poor conversationalist. Most of the time, our discomfort boils down to the fact that we don’t deal with death on a daily basis (and therefore, don’t have much experience with how to talk about it), and we don’t want to say the wrong thing. That’s why it can be helpful to have a plan in place when you know you’re going to offer condolences for a recent loss. To help you prepare in advance, let’s review some helpful tips and useful phrases.

woman kindly holding another woman's hand in caring gesture

Tip #1: Acknowledge their loss

Perhaps one of the most straightforward yet necessary things you can do is acknowledge their loss. They have experienced something truly heart-wrenching, and your simple acknowledgement and sympathy can go a long way.

You can choose a phrase that feels natural to you, but a few options are:

  • “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
  • “I heard about your dad. I’m so sorry.”
  • “I can’t imagine how hard this must be. I’m so sorry.”
  • “I was so sorry to hear about your loved one.”

Mother and daughter sitting on couch, sharing memories

Tip #2: Share a memory

If you had a personal connection to the person who has died, it can be sweet and meaningful to share a memory. One of the ways that we work through feelings of grief is by reminiscing about the memorable moments. Oftentimes, the grieving person may share the same story more than once, and that’s okay. It’s needed and necessary. So, sharing a story of your own, when possible, can be a perfect addition to your condolences.

A word of caution: if the grieving person seems very fragile, ask permission before sharing a story. Also, only share positive memories in your condolences. While it is important to work through any negative feelings, wait for an appropriate time. Your condolence is not the time.

Here are a few suggested phrases:

  • “I remember your mom’s sense of humor. She always had us laughing.”
  • “My favorite memory of your sister was when…”
  • “Would it be okay if I shared a few stories with you? Things that I remember about your grandmother?”

Adult man and woman sitting across from each other, woman talking while man listens

Tip #3: Give them the opportunity to talk

If you don’t have a story to share or don’t feel comfortable doing so, you could instead provide a chance to talk. As mentioned, talking about the person who has died is a necessary part of the grieving process. Be a safe person to share with and engage in active listening.

A word to the wise: Don’t offer advice or compare their experience to your own grief experiences. You may have gone through a similar loss, but you aren’t necessarily feeling the same things. Every person grieves differently, so instead, simply listen, comfort, and be present. If they ask about your experience, then feel free to share.

A few useful phrases you could use are:

  • “This must be so hard. Would you like to talk about it?”
  • “I’m here to listen if you want to talk. I’d love to hear about your loved one.”
  • “When I lost my mom, it helped to talk about her. I’m here to listen if you want to talk.”
  • “I’m here for you.”

Two young, female friends sitting on a couch, one sad while the other offer support

Tip #4: Validate their feelings

Most people try to keep their emotions under control in public settings. However, you can show extra kindness by validating, normalizing, and recognizing their feelings. Grief is hard, and really, we need to let out the emotions welling up inside. Once again, be a safe person. Don’t try to “fix it” because you can’t. Instead, offer a nonjudgmental space. Let them express what’s going on inside. Be compassionate, caring, and gracious.

What does this look like in words? Here are a few thoughts:

  • “Whatever you’re feeling is okay. This is hard.”
  • “You don’t have to keep it together around me. It’s okay not to be okay.”
  • “I don’t know what you’re feeling, but I’m here to listen if you want to share.”
  • “I wish I could make things better.”
  • “I wish I had the right words to say, but please know I’m here for you.”

Two older men sitting on a couch, one comforting the other who is upset

Tip #5: Stay away from cliches or platitudes

One thing to remember as you offer condolences is to stay away from cliches or platitudes. They are rarely helpful, and often, they feel hollow and impersonal. In some cases, they may even be harmful. For instance, saying “Everything happens for a reason” is intended to be comforting, but really, what possible reason could there be for this person’s death? Especially if it’s a sudden or unexpected death or someone who is still young.

Here are some phrases to STAY AWAY from:

  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “Look at what you have to be thankful for.”
  • “It’s part of God’s plan.”
  • “He’s in a better place now.”
  • “At least…” (…you can get married again, you had time together, you can have more children)
  • “This is behind you now. It’s time to get on with your life.”

Man delivering crate of groceries to older woman

Tip #6: Take supportive action

Following a loss, it can be hard to keep up with the everyday things. Grief takes a lot of time and emotional headspace. In fact, it’s not uncommon to forget things when you’re grieving. That’s why it can be kind to offer practical help. But don’t leave the responsibility on the grieving person. In other words, don’t say, “Call me if you need anything.” Instead, say, “I’m going to drop off a casserole for you on Tuesday. What time should I drop it off?”

Here are some ways you can provide practical help to someone who is grieving:

  • Shop for groceries or run errands
  • Mow the lawn
  • Drop off a casserole
  • Help with insurance forms or bills
  • Take care of housework, such as cleaning or laundry or taking out the trash
  • Watch their children or pick them up from school
  • Look after their pets
  • Go with them to a support group meeting
  • Accompany them on a walk
  • Take them to lunch or a movie
  • Share an enjoyable activity (sport, game, puzzle, art project)

Sometimes, just being a friend is exactly what they need and doing normal activities together can make things comfortable for both of you.

man in brown sport coat hugging woman, focus on man's back and woman's hands as they hug

Tip #7: Give them a hug

Physical touch is powerful, and often, it says more than words. The grieving person may not feel like talking, and that’s okay. Instead, offer eye contact and a sympathetic expression. Squeeze their hand or shoulder. If you’re family or a friend, give them a hug. If tears come, let them come. Don’t let the tears bother you. Don’t try to stop them or make a joke to lighten the moment. Sometimes, it’s best to just sit and be and let the emotions come. And if you are willing to sit and be present with them, that’s a gift.

Young woman video calling with older friend, checking in on her

Tip #8: Check in

Even after you’ve offered your initial condolences, consider taking it a step further. People in grief need support for months and sometimes years following the loss. To let them know you care, you can send a thoughtful gift. Reach out on special dates, like birthdays and anniversaries. Offer childcare or a lunch date. Text or call to ask how they are and if there’s anything you can do to help. Write a card or invite them to a day at the spa or the golf club. There are many ways you can support them in the days and months following a loss. Just make sure to follow through and let them know you’re available.

Before we go, remember – no matter what you say – it doesn’t have to be perfect to be supportive. You don’t need to take their pain away – that’s impossible. If they don’t open up right away, don’t force it, but also, don’t steer the conversation away from the death. Let things happen naturally. The grieving person simply needs you to show that you care and that you love them, no matter what they are working through.

For most suggestions on how to support a grieving friend or loved one, read:

10 Caring and Creative Sympathy Gifts

8 Simple Tips for Writing a Meaningful Condolence Letter

6 Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person

6 MORE Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person

7 Tips for Helping a Grieving Friend

Sympathy Cards: What to Write & Examples

By AfterCare, Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

Sending someone a sympathy card is a thoughtful way to show your support and let the bereaved know that you are thinking of them. But what should you write in a sympathy card? It can be difficult to know what to write to someone who has lost a loved one, but sharing a thoughtful message is a good way to encourage the bereaved.

To help you express your condolences in a thoughtful and meaningful way, we’ve put together some ideas for what to write in a sympathy card. Your relationship with both the deceased and the person who is grieving will affect how long or short your note is, so just use these ideas as a starting point.

Here are 5 ideas for what you can write in your sympathy card:

older woman comforting her adult daughter

Express your condolences

Often the first step in writing a sympathy note is expressing your condolences. This can be as simple as writing “I’m sorry for your loss” or “Please accept my condolences on the loss of ____.” Focus on offering words of comfort and support, like “I’m here for you if you need to talk” or “You’re not alone in this. I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

Keep in mind that sometimes it is better to say nothing at all than to say something that might upset or offend the bereaved person. If you had a strained relationship with the deceased, it is perfectly acceptable to simply express your condolences to the family without further comment. More neutral statements like “I am so sorry for your loss” or “My deepest sympathies go out to you and your family during this difficult time” can be a good way to express your sympathy for the family’s grief without being dishonest about your feelings.

Don’t shy away from using “death” or “died” in your condolences. While substitutions like “passed away” or “didn’t make it” may feel softer and more considerate, acknowledging someone’s death is an important part of the grieving process. As long as your tone is gentle, using the words “death,” “died,” or “dead” is acceptable.


  • I’m so sorry for your loss.
  • My deepest sympathies/thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family during this difficult time.
  • I will miss ____ very much.
  • I’m thinking of you in this difficult time.
  • You’re not alone in this. I’ll be with you every step of the way.

Share fond memories and appreciation of the deceased

If you were close to the deceased, you can also share fond memories or express your appreciation for them in your sympathy card. Reading about your gratitude for the deceased can help the grieving person feel connected to their loved one and may bring some comfort during this difficult time. As you share stories, be sincere – if you don’t have positive memories of the deceased, it would be better to simply offer your condolences.

When sharing memories, highlight the deceased’s qualities or mention how they made a positive impact on your life. You can also share a story that illustrates how much the person meant to you. As you share your memories, keep it relatively short and make sure that your focus remains on the deceased and not on yourself.


  • I’m so grateful I had the chance to know ____ and his/her kindness and compassion.
  • ____ was always so kind and helped me through [situation].
  • I always smile when I remember [memory].

man in a blue shirt offering his hand to help someone up

Offer to help

If you want to offer help to the grieving person in your sympathy card, make sure you are truly willing and able to follow through. It can be difficult for someone who is grieving to ask for help, so offering your assistance can be a nice gesture. But only offer help if you are actually willing to commit to it – otherwise, your offer may do more harm than good.

When you offer to help, do so in concrete ways. Saying “Let me know if you need anything” is vague and noncommittal, and many people won’t feel comfortable asking for help. Think of a specific way you could help, like cooking a meal, doing yard work, providing child or pet care, or listening and talking with them.


  • If you need someone to look after ____, I’m always available on the weekends.
  • I know I’m far away, but if you want to talk, I’m just a phone call away OR my number is ____.
  • I’d love to bring over a meal for you and your family. Just let me know what day would be best for you!
  • I know you have a lot going on, so let me know if you need someone to pick up groceries or help with chores. I’d be happy to help.

two girls comforting each other

Avoid making comparisons or minimizing the loss

When you are writing to a grieving person, it is important to avoid making comparisons or talking about yourself. This can be difficult, as you may want to share your own experiences to empathize with the person you are writing to. However, writing too much about yourself can take away from the focus on the deceased and make the grieving person feel like you are dismissing their grief. Remember that everyone grieves differently and what worked for you may not work for them.

You should also avoid saying anything that might place blame on the deceased or trivialize the feelings of the bereaved. For example, don’t say “I’m sorry for your loss, but at least he lived a long life.” In general, it’s a good idea to avoid adding a statement that starts with “but” after offering your condolences.

Also, try not to use clichés and platitudes such as “Everything happens for a reason” or “They’re in a better place now.” These phrases may be well-intentioned, but they often fall flat and can even come across as insensitive.

Phrases to avoid:

  • I know how you feel.
  • When I lost ____, I…
  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • It’ll get better.
  • They’re in a better place now.
  • It was his/her time.

person writing a note in a sympathy card

Add a personal sign-off

When you sign your card, you may or may not choose to include a short sign-off. If you do include one, keep it personal and informal. While the classic “Sincerely” may seem like a good option, it could seem overly formal. Use a sign-off that expresses your sadness and your support for your friend.


  • With love,
  • Praying for you,
  • With sympathy,
  • Thinking of you,
  • Sharing your sadness,
  • Here for you,

To make your sympathy note personal, consider which of these ideas you should include. It’s okay if you can’t think of a story to share or don’t know how you could help the bereaved. If you are struggling with what to say, keep things short and simple. A short, kind message means more than one that rambles or focuses on the writer. Focus on being sincere and kind, and your grieving friend will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

5 Ways to Help Grieving Seniors

By Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

From grandparents to elders in the community, you likely know several people who are 75 or older. Many of the seniors you know have probably found ways to stay active and healthy in their later years, but some, especially grieving seniors, might seem to retreat and disconnect.

As more of their friends and family members die, seniors may feel lonely and overwhelmed by grief. Many seniors can even experience “compounded grief,” which is a result of experiencing multiple losses in a short time. This grief can weigh down the elderly, making each day more of a struggle.

Seniors might feel like the world around them is changing rapidly, which can leave them feeling depressed, isolated, and less motivated to engage in day-to-day activities. If you have a senior in your life who is showing signs of grief, here are 5 ways you can support them:

1. Assist with everyday tasks

woman and daughter helping senior woman bake

Offering to help your senior friend in practical ways can be a huge help. For seniors, navigating everyday tasks can be challenging, especially when they’re dealing with grief or depression. By offering to help with small tasks, you’ll show them that you care about them and want to help. For example, you could drive them to doctor’s appointments, do some yard work, clean the house, cook a meal with them, or bring them groceries or their favorite treats.

As much as you want to help them, make sure you ask permission and respect their wishes. Many seniors want to live independent lives, so they may resist your attempts to help. Make sure they know that you’re trying to make their life easier, not trying to take away their independence when you offer to help.

2. Help them get involved in the community

senior man volunteering and picking up trash

Sometimes seniors feel lonely and forgotten, especially as more of their friends pass away. However, exploring their interests can help them connect with others. Many community centers, libraries, churches, or local clubs host monthly or weekly groups. With book clubs, gardening groups, crafting sessions, and even virtual groups, there are plenty of ways for seniors to dive into a hobby or project. Best of all, they can make new friends along the way.

Additionally, seniors might find it fulfilling to volunteer in the community. Donating their time, money, or items can remind them that they can still make an impact. For example, seniors could volunteer at animal shelters, community gardens, food banks, or school fundraisers. And, if you volunteer alongside them, you’ll build up your relationship while supporting the community together.

3. Spend time with them

woman helping senior man

As seniors begin losing their friends, they can feel like they’re all alone. By spending time with them, you can help them feel less lonely. You could cook together, play board games or cards, or sit and talk. You could even take them out for a day on the town to go shopping or get lunch. As you strengthen your relationship with them, your presence will help reassure them that they still matter to you.

Even more importantly, take time to listen to them. Listening shows that you’re interested in someone and care about their life and experiences. Whether your senior friend wants to talk about the grief they experience or reminisce about times gone by, you can make them feel secure and validate their feelings. Listening to a senior can also benefit you; you might hear a new story or learn from their wisdom and experience.

4. Include them in family events

young girl and senior man playing game with blocks

Whether the senior you want to help is a family member or a friend, including them in family events can help them feel like a part of something. Plus, if you have young children or teenagers, spending time with the elderly can have a positive impact on their lives. There are plenty of ways to involve a senior. You could bring the kids around for a visit, host a game or movie night, or invite them to a family dinner, your child’s sports game, or a school play.

Inviting your elderly friend or family member to join your family during the holidays can have an even greater impact. The holidays can be a heavy reminder of the people a grieving senior has lost, but surrounding them with love and care can help them find joy in the season.

5. Encourage them to find outside support

seniors supporting each other

While some seniors might dislike the idea of counseling, support groups and therapy are beneficial for people who have experienced loss. Outside support can help grieving seniors process their emotions, especially if they’re dealing with compounded grief from multiple losses. Plus, hearing from others about their struggles can remind seniors that they’re not alone.

Some seniors might resist your attempts to help them at first. Be respectful of their boundaries, but also remind them that you care about them and you’re there to support them. Whether you’re seeking to help a parent, a grandparent, or an elderly friend, you can take small steps to include them in your life. While a senior might feel overwhelmed by their grief, knowing that you’re there to help and truly want what’s best for them will bring them comfort.

Best Books on Grief for a Teenager

By Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

Do you remember being a teenager and going through acne, mood swings, friendship drama, and all the rest? Imagine if you were going through all that plus grieving the loss of a loved one. You may want to shelter your teenager from death and the hard things of life, but it’s simply not possible. Instead, help them learn how to deal with their emotions and implement healthy habits for grieving.

Giving your teenager a book that will help them understand what they’re feeling and why will help them better understand grief and will give you an opportunity – as parent or caregiver – to have open and honest conversations about loss and how to grieve well.

Below, you will find a series of books appropriate for teenagers that focus on grief, loss, and dealing with death. While they are certainly not the only books available, they will give you a place to start.

Let’s begin!

When a Friend Dies: A Book for Teens about Grieving & Healing by Marilyn E. Gootman Ed.D.

When a Friend Dies helps to answer common questions teens may ask themselves after the loss of a friend, including “How should I be acting?” and “Is it wrong to still have fun?” and “What if I can’t handle this on my own?” Sensitive, gentle, and compassionate, this book includes advice from the author based on her own experience helping teens through grief as well as quotes from real-life teenagers who have experienced grief. This is a realistic, straightforward, and easy to understand resource that will help your teen through the loss of a friend.

Click here to view the book.

Weird is Normal: When Teenagers Grieve by Jenny Lee Wheeler

Written by a teenager after the loss of her father to cancer, Jenny Lee Wheeler recounts her own struggle to deal with grief and loss when she was just 14 years old. With a fresh perspective for her peers, Wheeler helps teens understand some important fundamentals of grief, including that grief is natural, it takes time, and there’s no easy or right way to grieve. For a slightly different take on what it means to grieve as a teen, take a look at Wheeler’s story.

Click here to view the book.

Help for the Hard Times: Getting Through Loss by Earl Hipp

Thoughtfully written and engaging, Earl Hipp draws on his background and experience as a clinical psychotherapist to discuss the losses young people experience. In this book, he gives teens the tools they need to grieve, to explore and articulate difficult feelings, and to find a way to move toward healing and reconciliation. With several books in print and more than a quarter million copies sold, Hipp is a respected voice in the grief care world.

Click here to view the book.

Grieving for the Sibling You Lost: A Teen’s Guide to Coping with Grief & Finding Meaning after Loss by Erica Goldblatt Hyatt

Losing a sibling at any age can be devastating but can be doubly so for teens who are still developing grieving techniques. In this compassionate guide, Hyatt helps teens identify their coping style, deal with overwhelming emotions, and find constructive ways to process the loss they feel. Whether your teen is dealing with loneliness, depression, anxiety, or some other deep emotion, this book will help them work through negative thoughts and find their way toward healing and new purpose.

Click here to view the book.

Grief Recovery for Teens: Letting Go of Painful Emotions with Body-Based Practices by Coral Popowitz

As the Executive Director of Children’s Grief Connection, a grief camp focused on helping children, teens, and their families process loss, Coral Popowitz brings years of experience with trauma and grief to the table in her helpful guide for dealing with the physical aspects of grief and loss. Grief brings feelings of sadness, loneliness, and even fear, but did you know that these emotions can also greatly affect your body? With sensitivity and care, Popowitz will help your teen understand the connection between the mind and the body and how body-based practices can help relieve the physical symptoms of grief.

Click here to view the book.

Healing Your Grieving Heart for Teens: 100 Practical Ideas by Dr. Alan Wolfelt

As a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, Dr. Alan Wolfelt often says, “When words are inadequate, have a ritual.” In this insightful read, Wolfelt breaks down some of the basics of grief and offers teens a series of healing activities that will help them express their grief in a healthy way and mourn naturally. The thoughtful ideas are targeted at helping young people process through difficult emotions and learn how to release their grief in a way that is healthy and positive so they can find healing and continued meaning in life.

Click here to view the book. To see an accompanying journal (not required), click here.

Straight Talk about Death for Teenagers: How to Cope with Losing Someone You Love by Dr. Earl Grollman

This classic book on grief for teenagers is still read and much lauded to this day. From award-winning author Dr. Earl Grollman, this book helps teens understand what is normal when you grieve, explains what teens can expect as they move through the grief journey, and offers helpful tips for coping with the emotions that accompany losing a loved one. A quick read, the book is divided into sections focusing on the early days of grief, facing the immediate future, learning to cope, and rebuilding your life. Down to earth and easy to read, this book is sure to help your teen work through the complexities of grief and find a firm foundation for moving forward.

Click here to view the book.

You are Not Alone: Teens Talk About Life After the Loss of a Parent by Lynne Hughes

Losing a parent is one of the most isolating and frightening experiences that a young person can face. Written specifically for teens grieving the loss of a parent, Lynne Hughes draws on her experience as the director of a bereavement camp to share words of reassurance and coping strategies. Using testimonials from teens she has worked with, Hughes brings the grief struggle to life, offering teens a look into the struggles of their peers as they discover what works and what doesn’t on the journey toward healing. If you know a teen who is struggling with the loss of a parent, look into this helpful resource and see if you think it might help.

Click here to view the book.

Living When a Young Friend Commits Suicide: Or Even Starts Talking About It by Dr. Earl Grollman

Another grief classic by Dr. Earl Grollman, this book focuses specifically on suicide loss. In the last few decades, the suicide rate amongst young people has increased, so the likelihood that your teen may lose someone they love to suicide is higher than ever before. In this sensitive read, Dr. Grollman offers solace and tender guidance to teens who are confronted with traumatic suicide loss at such an early age.

Click here to view the book.

The final book on the list is actually a resource for parents and caregivers as you work to help your teen identify and express their feelings in a way that is healthy and productive.

Teen Grief: Caring for the Grieving Teenage Heart by Gary Roe

A winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award, this book was called “an invaluable resource for parents, teachers, coaches, ministers, and anyone who has a teenager they love and want to help.” No matter what type of grief your teen is facing – divorce, rejection, violence, abuse, illness, disability, death of a loved one – this book will help you:

  • Understand how your teen is viewing the loss and how deep the pain goes
  • Support your teen as they work through anxiety, depression, guilt, fear, and other emotions
  • Learn how to walk with your teen and be a safe person
  • And more!

With this resource at your fingertips, you will have a comprehensive guide as you help your teen navigate through the losses of life and find healing.

Click here to view the book.

While these books do not guarantee success or that your teenager will be able to process their grief quickly, they will serve as helpful resources on the journey toward healing. Grief takes time. Give your teen the time and loving support they need to process the difficult emotions they feel. As they do the work of grief and express what they feel, they will find a way to move forward into a healthy future.

What to Do If You Can’t Attend the Funeral

By COVID-19, Current Events, Helping a Friend in Grief

There are numerous factors that can lead you to miss an important event like a funeral. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is one factor that may be at the forefront of your mind, especially recently. In the wake of this relatively unknown disease, you want to ensure you and your family are taking proper precautions and following specific guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and federal, state, and local recommendations and mandates.  

Funeral homes are doing all they can to minimize exposure to others, such as limiting the size of the services, holding one service per day, and/or properly sanitizing the establishment after each gathering. Funeral attendees can also do their part by practicing social distancing, frequent handwashing, and even avoiding large gatherings. However, depending on your health status, state and local restrictions, and your household’s risk level, you may simply be unable to physically attend a funeral. If you must stay home, here are four ways you can provide comfort and encouragement to the family and friends of the person who has died. 

 1. Ask if the service will be recorded or streamed online. 

As mentioned above, some funeral homes will limit the number of people attending a service so that they comply with the CDC guidelines. If that’s the case, a virtual or digital viewing experience may be your best option. The good news is that some funeral homes can stream the service live on Facebook or other technology. You can call the funeral home to ask if that option will be available for the service, and then ask how you can view the stream from the comfort of your home 

 2. Write a note to encourage the family and friends who have lost a loved one.

Though it seems simple, a heartfelt note can make a huge difference to someone who is grieving. It only takes a few minutes to make someone feel like they are not alone and to show that you care. You can do this through a sympathy card, social media post, email, or text. If you want some tips, here are a few recommendations for writing a meaningful condolence letter 

3. Give a sympathy gift.

There are many ways to show someone that you care apart from handwritten notes or letters. Gifts are always encouraged, especially if they are tailored to the recipient. If you can’t drop off a gift in person, you can send flowers or have a gift delivered to the family. You may also consider making a charitable donation in the name of the person who died. If you’d like more ideas for meaningful sympathy gifts, click here 

4. Check in regularly on those who are grieving. 

You might not be able to be present with your grieving friend in person, but you can always check in with a phone call, text, or note through social media letting them know you are thinking of them. The process of grief will last longer than the virus. Continue to support your friends and family members during this time to show that you care. With every thoughtful note or check-in, no matter how brief, your grieving friend will feel supported and loved throughout their grief journey.  

Supporting Grieving Friends on “Special” Days

By Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

Grief takes its toll on us, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Then, “special” days like Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, holidays, and birthdays come around, emphasizing love and togetherness. If you have a grieving friend who has lost a spouse or significant other, those special days can be particularly difficult. The one who filled their hearts is gone and these days only emphasize that loss. So, what can we do as friends, family members, and neighbors to help our bereaved loved ones on these special days of the year?


Listening is one of the most powerful things we can do for grieving friends. Grief is unique from person to person. No two people grieve the same way and having a safe person to talk to is a special gift. Make time for your grieving friends, allow them to talk about any feelings or emotions, and provide a listening and attentive ear. This isn’t time to give advice – this is time to listen, to sympathize, and to comfort. Expect to hear a multitude of emotions. As complex beings, we experience sadness, anger, confusion, shock, relief, guilt, and other similar emotions after a loss. All of these are normal responses to loss, so be prepared to hear any or all of them.

Measure Your Words

More often than not, it’s the words we use that get us into uncomfortable situations. So, when talking with your grieving friends, make sure to carefully measure your words. Your intentions may be good, but the execution may fall short. Avoid things like, “Don’t be sad. Think of all the good years you had,” or “They wouldn’t want you to feel this way.” Instead, focus on comforting them. Say, “I can’t imagine what you’re feeling, but I’m here for you,” or “My heart aches for you,” or simply hug them and let your presence speak more than your words. For more helpful hints on what NOT to say to a grieving friend, click here.

Let Them Express Their Feelings

If we’re honest, sometimes emotions make us feel uncomfortable, but emotions are a part of being human. We all have them, and when we are feeling strongly, the emotions need to find expression so we can get them out rather than keeping them in. That said, it’s important to allow your grieving friends to express what’s going on inside. Let them rant, rage, or cry. Afterward, simply hold their hands or offer a comforting embrace. Then, if possible, talk with them about more ways to express their emotions, whether through writing, creative expression, or even exercise.

Help Them Honor Their Loved One’s Memory

Though death means our loved one is no longer physically with us, it does not end the relationship we have with them. The bonds of love are never gone – we will always love that person. On special days, encourage your grieving friend to find a way to honor the memory of a loved one and join them in the activity, if they allow it. That may be cooking a lost spouse’s favorite meals at home, watching a favorite movie, planting a memorial tree, donating to a cherished non-profit, giving blood, or even volunteering at a favorite charity or organization. Whatever will be meaningful to your grieving friend is the right thing to do.

Encourage Them to Pamper Themselves

When we’re grieving, we don’t always take time to care for ourselves. But grief is hard work and caring for ourselves is an important part of keeping our spirits and our energy up. As a special day begins to approach, encourage your grieving friend to do something for themselves. For women, that may mean a day of shopping, going to the spa, or simply getting dinner at a favorite lunch spot and talking. A gift card for such an activity can go a long way toward saying “I’m thinking of you.” For men, it may be a nice massage, a night out with the guys, or a day on the golf course. Whatever the case may be, encourage them to take time to re-charge and do something that will rejuvenate them.

Send a Thoughtful Gift

No matter what the special day may be – Valentine’s, an anniversary, Christmas – find a way to thoughtfully show your care and consideration. Send a card that lets them know you are thinking of them. Or give a thoughtful gift. Depending on the special day, you might send flowers, chocolates, a book, or a mug with a few favorite teas to the ladies. For men, a card, chocolates, a book, or even a gift card to a favorite store would be thoughtful. Better yet, get some of your mutual friends to join in with you to shower the person with love! The point is, find a way to let them know you care about them on this special day and are thinking about them.

Ask Your Grieving Friend to Dinner

The special days are particularly hard because they are often days your friend would have spent with their spouse or close loved one. Instead, treat them to dinner at a fun place, complete with dessert and all the trimmings. Or if you’re able, plan a full day of activities to make the day special. Schedule some of your friend’s favorite activities, go to a favorite restaurant, go to a movie, and re-invent the day. Allow your friend moments to grieve but also fill the day with happy memories to cherish.

Invite Them to Volunteer

Often, it’s helpful to think of others when we are going through tough times ourselves. If your friend is more civic- and community-minded, invite them to volunteer with you. Instead of allowing sad emotions to reign on the special days, turn the day into an opportunity to give back and bring a little joy into the lives of others. This could mean volunteering at a local soup kitchen, packing donation boxes to send to children in need, or visiting nursing homes and chatting with lonely seniors. Research shows that volunteering gives us a greater sense of purpose and boosts mood, which is something a grieving friend sometimes needs.

Offer to Watch the Kids or Help Around the House

Depending on their stage in life, your grieving friends may need different things. If they still have children in the house, offer to watch the kids while they have some much-needed time to themselves or get a few errands out of the way. If your friend is older or doesn’t have children, find out if there’s anything you can do around the house to help. That may mean fixing a leaky faucet or cooking up some casseroles for the freezer. Often, it’s the simple kindnesses that mean the most.

Follow-up and Be Consistent

Even after the special day has passed, make sure to follow-up with your grieving friend. Call them to ask how they are, what they’ve been up to, and what they have coming up. Leave a cheerful voicemail and let them know you look forward to talking to them soon. In other words, simply be their friend all through the year. That way, when the special days come and the grief comes to the surface, you are ready and available to step in and offer your friendship, love, and support as they once again face the loss of their spouse or significant other. But thankfully, they aren’t doing it alone – they have friends and family beside them through it all.

7 Tips for Helping a Grieving Friend

By Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

When a friend is hurting, it’s hard to know what to do. We want to offer words of comfort and support, but we worry that we’ll say the wrong thing. Or do the wrong thing. Above all, we wish we had the magic words to erase our friend’s grief and make them whole again.

But it’s important to remember, even as we work to support our friends who are mourning, that we mustn’t rob them of the process of grief. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a respected grief counselor and author, says that we never “get over” our grief. Instead, we become reconciled to it; we learn how to weave the loss into the story of our lives. He goes on to say:

You don’t get to go around or above your grief. You must go through it. And while you are going through it, you must express it if you are to reconcile yourself to it. …As you achieve reconciliation, the sharp, ever-present pain of grief will give rise to a renewed sense of meaning and purpose.”

As you seek to help a friend in grief, above all, allow them the necessity of the grief journey. We must face our grief in order to accept our loss.

7 Tips for Helping a Grieving Friend

1. Actively Listen

As you listen to a grieving friend, you may hear them saying similar things again and again. Don’t worry – this is normal. Dr. Wolfelt says that “repetition is part of the healing process.” As human beings, we need a safe place to relive our memories and talk about our loved one so that we can face our loss and begin to move forward. So, give your friend time and room to express themselves without fear of criticism or judgment. Listen as carefully and compassionately the first time as the fiftieth time.

2. Express Compassion and Empathy

While you may not know exactly what words to say, expressing compassion and empathy is important. Acknowledge the very real reality of your friend’s pain and loss. Your friend doesn’t need you to offer advice or fall back on clichés. Instead, agree that their pain is real and legitimate and that your heart hurts because their heart hurts.

3. Prepare for an Emotional Roller Coaster

Grief elicits a wide range of emotions. Maybe you’re familiar with a few of them from your own grief journey: sadness, anger, relief, regret, guilt, or blame, to name a few. Because every grief journey is different, there’s no way to know for sure how your friend is going to react emotionally. So, be prepared for anything.

When the emotions break through, accept them for what they are. Say nothing to make your friend feel like their emotions are wrong or incorrect. Instead, to show them that you love and support them, listen to them and let them work through the emotions of their grief. If asked, and only if asked, offer loving guidance.

4. Offer Practical and Specific Help

When a friend loses someone, you might wonder what you can do. As human beings, our first reaction is often to try to fix something or find a way to make it better. With grief, you can’t just fix it – people have to work through their grief on their own. But you can offer practical and specific help to a grieving friend to make the grief journey a little easier.

Here are some practical ideas:

  • Offer to babysit or pick the kids up from school
  • Help out around the house (e.g. repairs, laundry, cleaning, etc.)
  • Meal prep (e.g. grocery shopping, dropping off dinner, starting a care calendar)
  • Get them out of the house (e.g. walks, lunch, movie night)
  • Run errands
  • Help with funeral arrangements
  • Look after the pets
  • If they recently lost a spouse, offer to stay the night so they don’t feel alone

When offering practical help, take the initiative on yourself. A grieving person is unlikely to call you for help. Instead, offer a specific time and let them contradict you. For example, “Can I come by on Tuesday to mow the lawn for you?” They may turn your offer down at first, but then you can ask, “What day is better? I’d really like to do this for you.”

5. Give the Gift of Your Presence

You may be worried that you’re going to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, but don’t let that stop you from giving the gift of your presence. Your friend needs your unswerving support, minus opinions and advice (unless they ask for it). Be willing to witness their pain and realize that there may be times when they don’t appreciate your efforts. Don’t take their reaction personally – grief brings out a multitude of emotions, some kind and some not. If you stick with your friend through the ups and downs, offering your steadfast presence in their life, you will eventually receive an indescribable gift. You will see them come through the pain and find a new normal.

6. Provide Ongoing Support

After the funeral, many of us forget to check on our grieving friends. We mistakenly think that the funeral brings complete closure, and everything is over and done. But that’s not the case. The funeral is only the first step in the grief journey, so it’s important to continue offering support and encouragement after the funeral concludes.

You might send notes and texts or call and leave an encouraging voicemail, especially on special days like anniversaries or birthdays. You don’t have to say much. Even a simple, “I’m thinking about you” can brighten someone’s day and let them know you care.

7. If Needed, Lovingly Suggest Grief Counseling

While there is no time frame for grief, it is important to monitor how your friend is doing. If months have passed, and they have not seemed to move toward healing, consider whether you should lovingly suggest professional help or a grief support group. Again, there’s no need to push too hard. Just let them know you are concerned about them and want what’s best for them.

12 Activities to Help Ease Senior Holiday Grief

By Christmas, Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief, Seasonal

Many seniors of the older generation spend the holidays alone, which often leads to holiday grief. Even the healthiest seniors must face the consequences of the passage of time, which brings the death of loved ones, decreased energy and mobility, and the loss of independence and opportunities. Some seniors have lost a spouse, their children live far away, or many of their loved ones have already passed on due to illness or old age.

Imagine waking up on Christmas morning, knowing that there is no one to share the holiday with. The focus on family, friends, and togetherness during the holidays can create feelings of loneliness and grief. In a survey conducted by AARP, 67% of adults feel happy when thinking about spending time with family during the holidays. On the flip side, 31% of respondents said that they have felt lonely during the holiday season.

Even though many seniors are facing loneliness and holiday grief this year, we can do something to help. Whether it’s with an older family member or at a local assisted living center or nursing home, you can have a positive influence on the seniors around you. Take a look at these 12 holiday activities and ask yourself which ones you can do to help others this season.

12 Activities to Help Ease Senior Holiday Grief

1. Have a Gift-wrapping Party

Invite a few seniors in your life over to help you wrap gifts for Christmas. You can prepare a few sweet treats and warm drinks to make the time cozier and festive. Also, ask them to bring along any presents of their own so that you can all take part in wrapping gifts together. Even this small gesture can make a big difference in the hearts of those who are lonely or grieving.

2. Sing Carols or Other Christmas Songs

Whether you go to a nearby housing facility or invite people to your home, singing traditional Christmas carols and other holiday songs lifts the spirit. Break out in Joy to the World, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, or Jingle Bell Rock. Choose whatever suits your tastes or ask your guests for song requests. Another option is to gather a group together – adults, kids, or a mix – and go visit those who are homebound or in a nursing facility.

3. Bake Christmas Treats

We all have Christmas favorites. Hand-decorated sugar cookies. Mom’s famous mashed potatoes. That big bucket of fried chicken your family always gets. Or, the smoked turkey Uncle Al makes every year. For most of us, certain foods are associated with Christmas, and for those who are lonely or grieving, it can be renewing to cook (or bake) your Christmas favorites with others. Who knows – you may find a new Christmas favorite.

4. Decorate Together

Part of what makes Christmas so Christmasy is all of the decorations we put up in our homes and workplaces. If you know a senior who is experiencing holiday grief, they may not have the energy to decorate their home, so offer to come over to help them put things up. (Don’t forget to help take them down later.) Or, invite them over to help you decorate your own home for the holidays. Both options will make them feel loved and wanted.

5. Create Christmas Crafts

A fun activity for the holiday is crafting. You can choose whatever kind of craft you want – making a wreath or ornaments, knitting hats and scarves, or creating your own garland with popcorn, paper, or even burlap. There are so many options to choose from that you and the seniors in your life will stay busy all throughout the holidays.

6. Watch Christmas Movies

It’s a Wonderful Life. White Christmas. Home Alone. A Christmas Carol. Around this time of year, families pull out all the old Christmas movies. They sit down together and enjoy the timeless tales again. This year, consider inviting a senior loved one to take part in the movie marathon. Pull out the popcorn, cozy blankets, and Christmas goodies to complete the evening of cinematic fun.

7. Attend a Local Christmas Play

Many schools and local theater groups throughout the country put on theatrical events at Christmas time. Check out what is offered in your area and see if a senior friend would like to attend. Not only would it be an opportunity to get out of the house, the play will likely take their attention away from any loneliness or grief they may feel and fill them up with joy.

8. Take a Drive to Look at Christmas Lights

For some families, taking a drive around town to look at Christmas lights is a yearly tradition. It’s fun, and sometimes entertaining, to see how everyone decorates their homes for Christmas. Load up your family and a few senior friends to go out for an evening drive. Fill the car with Christmas music and take a few holiday snacks. Everyone is sure to end the evening filled with cheer.

9. Host a Christmas Party

If you have the space, you might consider putting on a Christmas party for some seniors you know. Or, you can put together an event for a parent and his or her friends. You can offer delicious dishes to eat, organize a gift exchange, or put together some fun games or competitions. The goal is to have fun and give everyone a holiday event to look forward to attending.

10. Go Out for a Shopping Day

Some seniors are no longer able to drive themselves or go places alone. Offering to go out for a shopping day might be just the thing to lift their spirits. Whether they want to actually buy or just window shop, the opportunity to get out, to see the Christmas decorations for themselves, and to spend time with a new friend is priceless.

11. Ask about Christmases Past

For many older seniors, their mothers, fathers, siblings, and even spouses or children, have already passed on, so there’s no one to create new memories with or recount the old ones. That’s why it’s so sweet to ask a senior about the Christmases they remember. To hear about their family growing up, the antics of siblings and cousins and children, the best and worst years. Asking to hear memories shows love and appreciation for that person as an individual and a friend.

12. Give Back to the Community

Another opportunity to help seniors who are alone or experiencing holiday grief is to invite them to focus on others. Communities all over provide opportunities to give during the Christmas season. Talk to the seniors in your life and ask if they want to take part in Toys for Tots, a canned food drive, Operation Christmas Child, or some other service project in your community. By bringing joy to others, we bring joy to ourselves.

All of these activities will help you engage with seniors who may be struggling this holiday season. Consider which ones you like best and go spread some Christmas cheer!

6 MORE Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person

By Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

Sometimes – perhaps most of the time – we just don’t know what to say to our friends, family, children, or coworkers who are grieving. We want to offer words of comfort, encouragement, and love. But there are some things we just shouldn’t say. Our hearts may be in the right place, but people cannot see our hearts. They cannot decipher our good intentions. They can only interpret what they hear and what they see: our words and our body language.

In 6 Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person, we talked about the power of words. Our words have the ability to hurt or to heal. They are a powerful tool. We can use our words for building up or tearing down. We all know this is true. So, let’s use our words wisely, kindly, and for the encouragement and building up of those around us. Below is a list of a few more phrases that should be banished from our conversations with people who are grieving.

6 MORE Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person

“How’s your family holding up?”

While this question is not innately bad, take the time to ask about your friend or loved one first. Ask “How are you?” and then ask about family members. By asking about family first, you indicate that the family’s feelings are more important than the individual’s feelings. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a respected grief author, educator, and counselor, offers this advice: “Keep in mind that your friend’s grief is unique. The death of someone loved is a shattering experience.  As a result of this death, your friend’s life is under reconstruction.” Take time to ask your friend about their family, but first, be intentional about asking how they are doing in their own individual grief journey.

“Your loved one wouldn’t want you to be sad.”

You may be trying to lighten the mood and add a little levity, but in actuality, this comment trivializes the grief felt by the bereaved. You are telling them that their grief is a bit silly, and their loved one would say the same thing. Instead, allow people to grieve. Dr. Wolfelt encourages us to “Allow your friend to experience all the hurt, sorrow and pain that he or she is feeling at the time. Enter into your friend’s feelings, but never try to take them away.

Give them the freedom to express whatever emotions are present. A grieving person needs a safe space to release and process through their emotions. Rather than tell them how they should feel, allow them space to express their true feelings and support them as they begin the healing process. Instead, you might say “There’s no need to apologize. It’s OK to be sad. I know you miss him/her very much.”

“It was his/her time to go.”

This is similar to saying, “He’s/She’s in a better place.” When a person is grieving, it doesn’t matter that it was their loved one’s “time.” While the death of a grandparent or even a parent feels more in the natural order of things, some people are grieving a loss that feels unnatural, like that of a sibling, a child, or a friend. The fact that it was “their time” doesn’t offer the comfort and compassion that your grieving friend needs.

Always remember, grief is made up of many complex and often conflicting emotions. Offering clichés to a grieving person is like trying to put a bandaid on a gaping wound. They just don’t work. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way, “Words, particularly clichés, can be extremely painful for a grieving friend. Clichés are trite comments often intended to diminish the loss by providing simple solutions to difficult realities.” Your intentions may be good, but coping with a loss, even when the loss is expected, is still a complicated process. The best thing to say is “I’m so sorry about your loss. He/she was such a special person.”

“How did he/she die?”

The only reason to ask this question is to satisfy your own curiosity. And in the end, the question will only make you seem nosy. Instead, focus on your grieving friend’s feelings. They need to hear you say, “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “My heart hurts for you.” For some, talking about the details of a death won’t be difficult, but for others, it will be excruciating. It’s best to wait until they decide on their own to share.

Dr. Wolfelt offers this advice from his years of experience: “Helping begins with your ability to be an active listener. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on listening to the words that are being shared with you. Your friend may relate the same story about the death over and over again. Listen attentively each time. Realize this repetition is part of your friend’s healing process. Simply listen and understand.”

“You have to be strong for (insert person’s name).”

It is a common misconception that it’s best to move away from our grief rather than to move toward it, but strong-arming your way through grief isn’t very effective. In fact, “being strong” often causes people to push their feelings away and compartmentalize what they feel. Suppressing our emotions is never healthy and can lead to anxiety, tension, and emotional distance from the very person you want to connect with at a difficult time. Perhaps you are a parent, and you feel that you need to “be strong” during a time of loss for your child. So, you put on a happy face and mostly pretend that nothing’s wrong, even though you are broken on the inside.

The problem is, when children see that your words contradict your actions, behavior, and facial expressions, they instinctively learn that “being strong” is more important than “being real.” Instead, demonstrate to your children what healthy grieving looks like. Talk about what you are experiencing. Develop traditions that honor your loved one. Tell stories. Visit the graveside. Allow yourself to cry. All of these are great ways to model healthy grief over the loss of a loved one for a child.

Having walked with many families through the grief journey, Dr. Wolfelt shares this advice for talking with children about death: “Sometimes, adults don’t want to talk about the death, assuming that by doing so children will be spared some of the pain and sadness. However, the reality is very simple: children will grieve, anyway. Adults who are willing to talk openly about the death help children understand that grief is a natural feeling when someone loved had died. Children need adults to confirm that it’s all right to be sad and to cry, and that the hurt they feel now won’t last forever.”

We should not encourage people to “be strong” when that means ignoring what they feel. Certainly, we don’t want them to fall apart for weeks on end and forget all their responsibilities, but we should give them permission to grieve. Ultimately, the person you feel the need to “be strong” for doesn’t need you to shelter or protect them from your pain. They are going to have to learn to deal with pain; it’s part of life. Instead, they need someone to walk beside them as you both grieve.

“I’m sure it will be better soon.”

When someone is grieving deeply, this comment may be frustrating. The grieving person may be thinking that they can’t imagine ever feeling better again. Your presumption that they will be better “soon” can seem insensitive. They may even feel like you are judging their current emotional state. In his teachings, Dr. Wolfelt shares that grief is individual and can take a long time to process. He encourages: “Don’t force your own timetable for healing. Don’t criticize what you believe is inappropriate behavior. And while you should create opportunities for personal interaction, don’t force the situation if your grieving friend resists.”

The reality is that grief can be one of the darkest times in a person’s life. To a griever, telling them things will get better (and soon!) translates to, I don’t understand the pain you are going through right now.” Instead, if your intention is to offer comfort, you can say, “I’m here for you for as long as you need me.” Or you can even offer to help alleviate some stress: “I know this is hard, and I’m here for you. Can I bring dinner to your house tomorrow night?”

All in all, the most important thing you can do is offer support to your grieving friend in the best way you know how. You may stumble a bit with the words, and that’s okay. But take the time to carefully consider your words and say what is most beneficial, even if you feel awkward. Your friend will appreciate your efforts to be sensitive, kind, and supportive in their time of grief and need.

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