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This is how you can support a grieving friend

We all experience grief differently, and sometimes our friends and loved ones don’t know how to be there for us. Author of The Grief Handbook, Bridget McNulty offers her insight ahead of National Grief Awareness Day.

“When my mom died very suddenly, I felt as if my life had been turned upside down. My grief hit me with such surprising force that I could hardly function. And because I was a shell of my former self, many of my friendships didn’t make it through,” shares Bridget. And she adds that the friends who remained, were forged in fire.

Here she shares what they did to help her through those dark days, and how you can do the same for a friend who is grieving.

Listen - don’t fix

I suppose this is true for friendships at any stage, but when a person is in deep grief, sometimes they just need to talk about it. What’s difficult is that there’s no new information - it’s not as if anything has changed since the last time they needed to talk about it. And it’s not that they’re asking for advice, or needing anything to be fixed (except the one thing that can’t: having their loved one back). Being able to listen without feeling the need to jump in and do anything is a real gift to a grieving friend.

Be open to talking about their loved one

You might feel awkward about bringing up the name of the loved one who has died, because you don’t want to remind your friend about them. But you can be sure that they are thinking about them all day every day, whether or not you mention their name. Opening the door to remembering them is sometimes just what they need.

Offer distraction

Some of the most helpful things my friends did in the days and weeks after my mom died were simple distractions. Harmless gossip, dumb TV shows, funny memes - anything that took my mind off my sadness for a few minutes was such a relief.

Encourage fresh air in small doses

Being told that you need to go out when you can hardly figure out how to get out of bed is not helpful. But going for a slow walk around the block with someone you love, or drinking a cup of tea in the garden, or letting the sunshine wash across your face for a few minutes really is. Try to ease your friend into fresh air as gently as possible. Think of them as an invalid, only they’re suffering from heartbreak, not sickness. Fresh air, gentle exercise, nourishing food, sleep, not too much coffee or alcohol - these are all building blocks to feeling better.

Offer specific forms of help

Although it seems like a lovely thing to say, “Let me know if I can do anything to help” is really not useful at all. It puts all the pressure of deciding what to ask for, and reaching out to ask for it, on the person who is grieving. And when you can’t decide what to wear for the day, reaching out and asking for help is almost impossible. Rather offer very concrete and specific ways to help: dropping off dinner at a specific time on a specific day. Lifting their kids home from school. Picking up groceries. Tidying their house.

Don’t rush them

There is no timeline to grief. Some people find it helpful to get back into the normal swing of life quite soon after their loved one has died, others take weeks and months to feel halfway normal. There is no right or wrong way to grieve - and that can be helpful to remind your friend. Whatever they are doing, they are doing their best… One day at a time.

Reach out a hand to help

Being a friend to someone during grief is hard - and, often, boring. It can also feel quite helpless, particularly if you haven’t experienced grief yourself. That’s one of the reasons I wrote The Grief Handbook - to reach out a hand to others on the grieving journey, and help them recognise that they are not alone, and that whatever they are feeling is totally normal. It also offers space to vent and express their deepest feelings, which can sometimes feel too intense to verbalise.

“Regardless of how your friend is feeling right now - and whether or not they are capable of expressing themselves - just know that they are grateful for your love and support,” she affirms.

Image: Unsplash

Tuesday 30th August is National Grief Awareness Day: an opportunity to talk about grief, and loss, in an open-hearted way, knowing that others are going through the same thing. Follow #griefawareness on social media for more.

The Grief Course launches on Grief Awareness Day. This online course - offered on a donation basis - is for anyone looking for support as they move through the grief journey.

Meet Bridget McNulty

She is the author of The Grief Handbook: A guide through the worst days of your life, available at all bookstores. Find out more at

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