Being Present When Others Grieve

Grief is complicated, uncomfortable and can make individuals feel lonely and isolated. As a culture we tend to behave awkwardly when facing the grief of others.  Whether by what we say or how we act, we can sometimes be downright harmful. Much of the awkwardness stems from being ill-prepared.  Perhaps the following suggestions can be helpful to you when a loved one is grieving:

1)      SHOW UP - Most of us are good at being present immediately following the loss. We come to calling hours, attend the funeral and even bring a dish to the grieving family. However, we must continue showing up for the days, weeks, and months that follow. Being present and available to someone in their time of grief can be comforting.  Stop by, show up, or give them a call.  Be intentional to show them that you are still there, and you care enough to show it. 

2)      LISTEN - When you do show up resist the temptation fill the silence with platitudes and clichés.  Take the time to be present and be patient to listen.  Deliberate patience gives a person the time they may need to process what they are thinking and feeling. You are not expected to have answers, and answers are usually not what they really desire. Giving them space to verbalize how they are feeling is like giving them the permission to feel.

3)      GIVE - In communities like ours, we usually do well to give immediately after a crisis moment.  We prepare meals, buy flowers, offer gifts, ease the burden of everyday tasks.  However, we also need to keep giving our time and energy after the dust settles.  Think of specific ways that you can continue to actively share your love and concern; doing laundry, mowing the lawn, making meals, sending cards, helping with carpool, childcare, etc.  Gifts serve as reminders that the person remains in our thoughts and prayers. 

4)      STICK AROUND - People who are on the other side of loss often say that life never really goes “back to normal”. Rather, they adapt and develop a new normal.  We have the opportunity to be a constant presence through the chaos of change as they begin to do that.  So, resist the temptation to run. Don’t be afraid of the awkward moments. Resist the desire to fill in the silent spaces. Remaining consistent and allowing them to move at their own pace with us by their side, may be the greatest gift we give them.

Pain and loss in this life are inevitable. If we want to be a good friend, a compassionate partner, or loving family member to someone who has experienced a devastating loss, we must put that individuals needs above ours. Sympathy is an expression of pity towards one’s sadness, empathy is getting down into someone’s sadness and walking through it with them. If we want to be helpful we must move from offers of sympathy to gestures of empathy.

For more resources on grief, help for those who are grieving, and a list of local grief share support groups,  email us at

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