20 Ways to Help a Bereaved Person

In her book, If There’s Anything I Can Do, Caroline Doughty tells of the pain of losing a spouse and the never-ending list of jobs to attend to. She says that there are many ways friends and family members can help but they are often unaware of what the bereaved person needs.

Emotional Help Immediately After a Death

This is an extremely emotional time and while the bereaved person needs time to grieve alone, they also need people around to support them. Emotional help includes the following actions:

  • Talk about the deceased by name and let the bereaved person share memories;
  • Share positive personal memories about the deceased;
  • Be prepared to sit and hold a friend’s hand during emotional outbursts; and
  • Grieve with the bereaved person.

Practical Help Immediately After a Death

There are many things that have to be attended to after a death. A caring friend can undertake some of these tasks and organize others to help with others. Here are some practical ways to assist:

  • Accompany the bereaved person to make funeral arrangements;
  • Register the death and make copies of the death certificate;
  • Offer to write letters that may be necessary for altering car insurance, telephone accounts and similar;
  • Cut the lawn and tidy the garden;
  • Many people like to provide meals to a bereaved person. Try and organize this onto a roster system and freeze any extras that come in; and
  • Help with children by taking them out for a walk or an ice cream.

Emotional Support in the Months Following a Death

While people mean well, support for a bereaved person usually tapers off after a few weeks. This is often when the loss and grief really set in. Emotional support can be offered in the following ways:

  • Call or visit at least once a week;
  • Don’t be afraid to talk of the deceased and ask the person how they are really doing;
  • Diarize the one month or six month anniversary of the death and take flowers, chocolates or a card around;
  • Offer encouragement as the person learns to laugh again; and
  • Become familiar with the stages of grief.

Practical Support in the Months Following a Death

If the bereaved person has lost a husband or wife, they may be struggling to pick up the tasks their partner was responsible for. In other cases, the person may be unmotivated and depressed. There are many ongoing ways to offer practical support:

  • Take the person out for a coffee or grocery shopping;
  • Offer help with outstanding paperwork and administrative tasks;
  • Look for opportunities to help in areas such as car or home maintenance for a woman or help with small children for a bereaved father. Approach people with expertise in various areas to help as well;
  • Invite the person away for a holiday weekend; and
  • Buy tickets for a show or movie and take the bereaved person with you.

Grieving is a long slow process that normally lasts for years rather than months. Friends and family can offer great comfort by offering ongoing support and practical help. It is often best to tell the bereaved person what the plan is rather than suggesting it. People are reluctant to follow up on an offer of help but may accept a plan that is already in place.


Caroline Doughty, If There’s Anything I Can Do, (White Ladder Press, 2007).