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Helping a Friend in Grief

bouquet of white flowers and pink and red roses

Funeral Etiquette: “In Lieu of Flowers” and Donations

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

Have you come across an obituary that asks for donations in lieu of flowers? The phrase “in lieu of flowers” has been used in funeral service for years. But what does this phrase actually mean in an obituary or death announcement?

When friends or family request donations in lieu of flowers, it’s important to respect their wishes. Here’s what you need to know about the phrase “in lieu of flowers” and the etiquette surrounding this special request.

What Does “In Lieu of Flowers” Mean?

bouquet of white flowers and pink and red roses

While giving flowers to the family of someone who has recently died is a tradition that goes back many years, sometimes families don’t wish to receive flowers. Maybe they already have enough flowers for the service, or perhaps someone is allergic to flowers.

No matter the reason, when a family doesn’t want flowers, they often ask for donations or cards instead of flowers. In an obituary, the phrase “in lieu of flowers” is typically used in this situation, and often the family requests donations to a specific charity in the deceased’s name.

How Do I Make a Donation In Lieu of Flowers?

glass jar full of change marked "charity" sitting on a wooden table next to two paper hearts

There are several ways to donate in honor of the deceased. If the family included a link to a specific charity or page in the obituary, you can click on that to make your donation. If they mention a charity without linking to it, you can go to the charity’s website and donate there. Be sure to include a note with your donation that mentions the deceased, like “In memory of ____.”

In most cases, you’ll donate directly to a charity. Don’t send cash or money to the family unless requested. In some cases, the family may request donations to support a particular family member, like the spouse or children of the deceased. When you donate to a charity or the family, consider giving what you would typically spend on flowers for the family.

If There Isn’t a Charity Listed, How Do I Pick One? 

Two hands holding a pink breast cancer awareness ribbon

Sometimes, a family will ask you to donate to your favorite charity instead of mentioning a specific charity. In this case, you can contribute to your preferred charity, making sure to specify that you’re giving a memorial donation in memory of the deceased.

If you’re unsure what charity to donate to, pick a charity that may be meaningful to the family. For example, you could donate to a charity looking for a cure to a disease the deceased fought, like breast cancer or Alzheimer’s. If the deceased was passionate about animals, you could donate in their name to the World Wildlife Fund. No matter what you choose, remember to notify the family of your donation.

How Do I Let the Family Know I Made a Donation? 

woman wearing a gray shirt writing in a card

If the family provided a link to a place to donate in the obituary or has a specific page to donate in the deceased’s name, the charity may notify them that you donated. If you’re unsure if the family has been notified of your donation, you can mention it in a sympathy card or condolence letter. Make sure to mention the gift in a sensitive manner and keep the focus on the family and the deceased.

Can I Provide a Donation and Flowers? 

parent and child hands holding a heart

It’s always best to follow the family’s wishes, but if you wish to send flowers in addition to a donation, you can always contact the family and ask if they’re okay with receiving flowers. If they’re fine with that, you can send flowers with a note that mentions your donation.

Alternatively, consider giving the family a different kind of sympathy gift. There are plenty of options for gifts you can give to the family, and there are even sympathy gifts you can mail if you cannot visit the family and give them something in person.

Regardless of how you express your sympathy, remember that your main goal is to support and encourage the family. By respecting their wishes, you show that you care about what they’re going through, and the family will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

family sharing Thanksgiving dinner together

6 Ways to Help a Grieving Friend at Thanksgiving

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

With food to prepare, family trips to manage, and upcoming holidays to plan for, Thanksgiving can be a busy and stressful time. For those grieving at Thanksgiving, this season can also bring heartache. Because Thanksgiving is a family-centered holiday, people who have lost a loved one may see reminders of their loss all around them. A holiday that once brought joy may be a painful reminder of their loved one’s absence.

Whether you have a friend or a family member who has lost a loved one, you can help make Thanksgiving a little bit easier for them. Here are six ways you can help a grieving friend at Thanksgiving!

1. Check in with them

friends catching up outside during the fall

One of the most important things you can do for a grieving friend is to check on them. This is true at any time of the year, especially on holidays and special days. Take time to ask your friend how they’re doing and truly listen to their response. They may not want to talk about their grief and pretend everything’s normal, or they may pour out all their emotions to you. Or they may not want to talk at all! That’s okay. Just let them know that you’re thinking of them and ready to listen when they’re ready to share.

As you talk with your friend, try not to talk too much about your own past grief experiences or offer advice unless it is asked for. Everyone grieves differently, and your friend may just need you to listen to them. Above all, focus on listening and supporting your friend as they navigate their grief.

2. Encourage them to set boundaries

pumpkin mug next to cozy blankets

For many of us, it can be hard to admit when we need to step back or ask for help. This can especially be true for those who are usually in charge of planning for holidays like Thanksgiving. A grandmother may feel like it’s her responsibility to manage everything in the kitchen, or a father may feel like he has to organize the family football game, even if he doesn’t feel like it. Encourage your friend to set boundaries and say no to things if they don’t feel up to participating.

3. Invite them to join your celebration

friends holding hands at Thanksgiving

No one should have to spend Thanksgiving on their own. Maybe your friend is older and has just lost their spouse, or maybe a single friend lives far from their family. Inviting your grieving friend to join your family’s Thanksgiving celebration can be a beautiful way to support them and show that you care.

However, if they refuse to join you, don’t take offense. Your friend may not feel up to being with a large group of people, especially if they don’t know the other members of your family. You can always offer alternatives, like just visiting for part of the time or meeting up for lunch the day before. Just make sure they know your offer is genuine and they are truly welcome.

4. Share food with their family

family sharing Thanksgiving dinner together

Planning, cooking, and serving a full Thanksgiving meal can be daunting for a family that has lost a loved one. If you don’t mind making extra and sharing, offer to help your friend’s family by bringing them food on or before Thanksgiving. Providing even one dish can be a huge relief for a family that is grieving at Thanksgiving. You could even gather several other friends and each make a dish to share with your friend. Just make sure you check with your friend first, in case they’ve made other plans for their Thanksgiving meal.

5. Create a new tradition

friends sharing pumpkin pie together

While some people who are grieving want to stick with their usual traditions so things feel normal, others may want to try something completely new. You and your friend can create a new tradition together! Maybe you can try a new pie recipe before Thanksgiving, set up family interviews to learn more about your family history, or participate in a Turkey Trot together. You can even help them find ways to honor their loved one at Thanksgiving. For example, you and your friend could create a memorial for their loved one or volunteer in their loved one’s name.

6. Offer to help in practical ways

friend raking leaves

Many people have trouble asking for help because they feel like a burden – especially when everyone else is busy during the holidays. If you know your friend might be struggling, offer to help in practical ways. You could offer to put up fall decorations or do yard work. Maybe you could pick up groceries for them when you do your own grocery shopping. You can help watch their kids or pets on Thanksgiving or the day before while your friend gets things ready. If your friend has family coming in from out of town, you could pick up their family members from the airport. Take initiative and offer to help with something specific so your friend knows you truly want to help.

Above all, make sure your grieving friend knows they’re not alone, and give them time to process their grief. While it may take them time to accept your help or feel comfortable sharing their feelings, being available and supportive is a wonderful way to show you care. As you celebrate Thanksgiving, let your friend know that one of the things you’re thankful for is them and their friendship!

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.

Examples:

  • 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.

Examples:

  • 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.

Examples:

  • 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.

Examples:

  • 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.

Friend giving a sympathy gift and flowers to a grieving friend

What to Do If You Can’t Attend the Funeral

By Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

There are numerous factors that can lead you to miss an important event like a funeral. Perhaps you live too far away or you can’t get time off work. Maybe your kids are sick or you’re homebound. Thankfully, you can still honor a loved one and pay your respects even if you can’t attend the funeral. Here are four ways you can still provide comfort and encouragement to the surviving family and friends even if you can’t attend the funeral itself.  

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

Today, most funeral homes offer livestream services for every funeral. 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.

Friend giving a sympathy gift and flowers to a grieving friend

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. 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?

Listen

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.

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