When a friend, relative or colleague has been bereaved of someone close to them, our instinct is to reach out to them.  However, the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing can make us feel anxious and, sometimes prevents us from being supportive.   

Here are some tips to help you support someone who has been bereaved:

Acknowledge the death

The single most important thing you can do to help someone who has been bereaved is to acknowledge what has happened. Crossing the street to avoid a bereaved person or saying nothing at all can be very hurtful and alienating.  

You might say:

I am so sorry to hear about your baby. I just don’t know what to say.  

If you don’t see the person, you could write or send a card or message. Acknowledging the death is much better than avoiding the subject. Be honest, open and sympathetic.

Be led by the bereaved person

Some people may want to talk about what has happened, while others may not want to – or at least not yet.  How they respond to you saying you’re sorry will begin to help you to understand what their needs are.

Offer practical support    

Show you care by offering practical support in ways that work for you.  It could be something like preparing a meal, doing some shopping or helping with childcare. It can be difficult to ask for support when you’re overwhelmed by grief so it helps to be specific if you can.

You might say:

I’m going to the supermarket this afternoon – can I pick anything up for you? 

Offer emotional support

You can show you care by offering to just listen, meeting up for a cup of tea, giving them a hug or going for a walk with them.  

Keep in touch

There’s often a lot of support around when someone is first bereaved, but this can reduce as time passes.  Try to keep in touch on a regular basis as it’s often as the months pass that the pain really kicks in.

Make sure you’re supported too

Spending time with someone who is grieving often puts us in touch with our own losses. It’s important that you get support so that you are able, in turn, to help your friend, relative or colleague.

See also our guide to supporting someone who is bereaved, which includes families supported by Child Bereavement UK alongside bereaved celebrities including Mary Berry, Rio Ferdinand, Marina and Ben Fogle, Joey Essex, and Jason Watkins, sharing their 'dos and don'ts' and practical tips around how to about support someone who is bereaved.