Being There For a Bereaved Friend

Many bereaved people find that it is difficult to explain the emotions they feel and even more difficult for their loved ones to understand what they are going through. Being a good friend to those who are bereaved involves showing patience, listening to them, and allowing them to grieve at their own pace without urging them to move on. (This is the big one — do not ever urge them to move on or tell them they need to get over their grief no matter how long it takes. Depending on the loss and the depth of their connection to the one who is gone, it can take years.)

If your bereaved friends cry, don’t tell them to stop. If they can’t cry, don’t urge them to try. If they want to talk, listen to them, but don’t urge them to talk about their grief if they don’t want to. Instead, ask about the person who died, what they were like, what was a favorite memory of them, which might be something bereaved will respond to. A lot of people hesitate to ask about the deceased loved one because they don’t want to make the griever sadder, but it’s nice to honor those who are gone by talking about them, and it’s even nicer to know that others haven’t forgotten the one who is gone.

If your bereaved friends don’t answer your questions, don’t push. If they pushes you away, don’t feel hurt or push back. Hug them if they will let you. When you are together, act normal. Don’t try to “feel their pain.” You can’t, and they will feel burdened by your empathy. Mostly, just be there for them.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

6 Responses to “Being There For a Bereaved Friend”

  1. Hal Barbera Says:


  2. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Thanks for the reminder, Pat. You really are wise.

  3. Deborah Owen Says:

    Excellent advice, Pat. Happy day.

  4. Toby Burnett Says:

    Thanks for this. I’ve wondered if, and how my experience might help be if I was in that situation. I felt most positive about people who acknowledged my pain, were sympathetic. I didn’t see that as their “feeling my pain”. I was unhappy about friends who, perhaps in embarrassment, avoided the subject. The hardest was dealing with an earnest “how are you doing?” query. No one ever asked, in the way you suggest, about my lost soul mate. The closest was perhaps a useful session in my grief group where we each brought in, and explained significant pictures.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      One of the first questions I asked in my grief support group was how to answer, “How are you doing?” She told me just to say I was coping, so I did, and it made it easier. Some grievers dislike people saying, “I’m sorry,” though that doesn’t bother me, and in fact, that’s what I say because I am sorry their loved one died, sorry they aren’t here anymore, and sorry they have to deal with such pain . What I don’t like is “I’m sorry for your loss” because it’s rote and more than that, it takes the deceased person out of the equation, as if “my loss” was greater than Jeff’s. Sympathy and empathy are good. Those who feel your pain are those who make your pain and your loss about them. Your experience will help because no matter what you say, your concern will show through. And you won’t avoid the subject.

  5. Judy Says:

    Good advice, thanks!

Please leave a comment. I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: