The grief that follows death is just as inevitable as death itself. When you lose someone who is dear to you, you’ll hopefully have a strong support system to offer you comfort. Everyone deals with death differently, so it can be difficult to express words of condolences but there are a few ways in which you can be a strong shoulder to lean on and respectfully help someone through this hard time. When words fail or you live far away from the grieving person, a bouquet of white flowers and a handwritten sympathy card can be a spark of light in the darkest time of their life.

Understanding The Five Stages Of Grief

elderly man alone in bedroom grieving

When we lose someone who was dear to us, we go through stages of grief. While there are many different models, the five stages of grief are the most widely known and can help you understand what your friend, family member or coworker who has lost someone is experiencing. After the death of a loved one, the grieving person is likely going through the following stages:

  1. Denial — The overwhelming feeling of losing someone can often lead to denial. One might tell themselves that the loved one is not gone and will walk through the door any minute now. This is a very common self-defense mechanism that helps the grieving individual process the news by numbing themselves to the gravity of the situation.
  2. Anger — After coping with the fact that the person is really gone, the griever will often express anger. The individual is likely experiencing a variety of emotions like sadness, loneliness or confusion which can be overwhelming. The expression of anger is a masking effect that can help them channel all of their feelings into one until they’re ready to tackle all of their other emotions.
  3. Bargaining — ”What if” and “If only” are common questions a grieving person will ask themselves, once they reach the stage of bargaining. Telling themselves something like “If only I had been with them that night, maybe they’d still be here” is a way for the individual to try and regain control over the situation by making up scenarios that they could’ve influenced.
  4. Depression — This is the passive stage of grief. After coping with the news, displaying anger toward the world and coming to the realization that they cannot change the past no matter how often they think about it, many fall into a depression. The person may feel confused, heavy and like they’d want to hide from reality forever. It can be helpful to seek professional assistance during this stage to learn a healthy way of coping with their grief.
  5. Acceptance — Life goes on. In stage five of the grieving process, the person will slowly come to this realization. This stage is by no means a happy or uplifting one but it is pivotal in going on with their own life and finding out who they are without their lost loved one.

Not everyone goes through all of these stages, some people may skip certain ones, others may experience completely different emotions. How the person they grieve for died, also impacts their way of coping with the loss. Know that there is no timeline for grief — some people may be able to go on in a matter of weeks while it takes others years to find themselves again. Let’s consider how you can be there for a grieving person going through any of the stages.

How To Help A Grieving Person

If you don’t live close to the person you want to comfort, send flowers, a card or call or text them. You can still show up for them even if it’s not in person. For a friend or family member who lives close by, you should definitely consider a visit. Depending on the closeness of your relationship, ask yourself whether they’d be okay with you stopping by unannounced or if you should call them or another friend to schedule a visit. You can offer your help with paperwork, bills or phone calls to inform others and plan the funeral but make sure not to burden yourself on the grieving person. If they don’t want your help, accept that they need to do it themselves. It may be their way of coping with the loss of their loved one.

white flowers on grey background

You can bring over food, help with cleaning their home, offer the person some time off to exercise, take a bath or get some sleep if they’re struggling to take care of themselves but don’t force them into anything they don’t want to do. If you didn’t know the person who passed away, see if your friend wants to talk about them. Sometimes, it can help to reminisce and talk about happy memories.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that death is permanent. While you may go on with your life in a matter of days or weeks and will only occasionally miss the deceased, their whole world is upside down. The food deliveries, visits and help will slowly get scarce and leave the grieving individual alone with the new life they didn’t ask for. The best you can do is to continue your support when everyone else has moved on with their own lives. Be courteous of their grieving stages but mindful that you can be a part of their journey to find themselves again.

What To Say To Someone Who Is Grieving

person in grey shirt using calculater

Finding the right words can be challenging, whether you knew the person who passed or not. You can share your sentiments with a simple “I am so sorry for your loss” if you’re not sure what else to say. However, there are a few more things you can share with the grieving person to let them know you care:

  1. Share a memory — Be mindful if the person is open to hearing them but it can be comforting to hear something nice about the deceased. You don’t have to tell a long story, maybe just share how you liked their apple pie or how their jokes never failed to make you laugh.
  2. Say their name — The person may have died but their name is still very present. Don’t shy away from saying it, it can offer the grieving person comfort knowing that a part of the deceased is still around.
  3. Offer your help — Anticipate the grieving individuals’ needs, ask specific questions and offer how you can help:
    • “Can I help you with any phone calls? I have time to take some off your hands.”
    • “Are there any bills that need to be taken care of that I can help you with?”
    • “Have you eaten today? I can make you something.”

When words fail, a hug can say everything. If you feel like it, cry with the person but make sure to not shift the attention away from their loss.

What Not To Say When Someone Died

florist arranging a bouquet of white flowers

The worst thing you could possibly do when trying to offer words of comfort to someone is to make it about yourself or try to “fix” the situation. Try to avoid downplaying the situation or telling them how to feel. It’s their time to grieve and not your place to intervene. The grieving person will not benefit from you saying things like:

  1. “Everything happens for a reason.”
  2. “I know how you feel.”
  3. “They’d want you to be happy.”
  4. “At least it was a quick death.”

Remember, there is no right or wrong way to mourn someone’s death so let the grieving individual decide how to feel. They have enough on their plate trying to sort out their own emotions and should not be taking care of you.

What To Say When Someone Dies Suddenly

two women hugging for comfort

A tragic or sudden death is a terrible experience for the people left behind. When family and friends had no time to prepare for this tragedy, it can be even more difficult to find the right words. The best you can do in a situation like this is to call it by its name:

  1. “This is such a tragedy. You have my deepest condolences.”
  2. “I can’t believe this happened. If there is anything I can do for you, let me know.”
  3. “This was so sudden, I can’t believe they’re really gone.”

In the case of an unexpected death, like an accident, the most caring thing you can do is help with daily tasks. The grieving person is likely going to need some extra hands to handle day to day life as they had no time preparing for this new period without their loved one.

Death In Different Cultures

While death marks a sad day and is a scary concept to many people in the Western world, other cultures view death and dying very differently. If someone of a different culture or religion than yours has lost a loved one, you can show your sympathies by being empathetic of their cultural rituals. Here are a few examples of how other cultures view and handle death:

man in monk clothing holding white flowers

  • Central America — In countries like Panama, Costa Rica or Guatemala, death isn’t viewed as a scary taboo topic. In fact, families often hold celebrations where they offer lots of pastries and alcohol and stay up all night to share their favorite memories and stories about the deceased.
  • China — While black is the color of mourning in the Western world, the Chinese view white as the color of death. If you cannot attend a Chinese funeral you were invited to, it is expected to send white flowers and a card with money to the family of the deceased.
  • Russia — Some cultural death rituals are based on superstition. Before a funeral, Russian family members will cover mirrors and stop the clocks to avoid more death in their family.
  • Japan — Traditionally, the Japanese believe that the body and soul of a human are different parts. When someone dies, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the end of their existence, as the person’s soul may live on.
  • Middle East — The majority of people from the Middle East believe in Islam. Muslim funerals are fairly simple but the unity between families, friends and even communities is outstandingly strong during times of hardship.
  • India — Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world and most prevalent in India. Using a camera or recorder of any sorts at a Hindu funeral is considered impolite. Flowers are welcomed gifts but food offerings are not part of the Hindu custom.

If you’re not sure how your friend’s culture deals with the loss of someone or you’re invited to a funeral and don’t know what the protocol is, inform yourself beforehand. There are religious funeral guides and other resources on the internet that can give you a good idea of what to expect so you don’t have to ask the grieving family uncomfortable questions.

Showing Support When Someone Lost Their Pet

People don’t just mourn the loss of their fellow humans. Many pets live a long time and become important companions to their owners. The death of a pet can be just as traumatizing and sad to a person as losing a friend. It is important to acknowledge that while you may not have had the same bond as they did to the deceased animal, they’re still going through a rough time trying to adjust to their life without a pet at home.

If you want to be supportive during this time, handle the situation similar to if a person had died. Be understanding, offer the grieving individual to share fond memories of the pet, say the pets name or send a condolence card. If you don’t want to upset your friend or family member, you should refrain from suggesting getting a new pet. While finding a new furry friend can be a great comfort and it may help some people to ultimately move on, they should make this decision on their own when they’re ready to open their heart to a new pet.

elderly person petting old dog

Before you pick up the phone or drive up to the grieving individual’s house, ask yourself if you are a person they’d want to see during this tragic time. If you’re a close or old friend and you knew the person who passed away, they most certainly want you to come over. However, if you’re their coworker and only know them from coffee breaks, a card and flowers will probably be a better way of expressing your condolences.