Presence + Understanding: How to Help a Friend with Grief


“Somewhere in the midst of grief, people don’t realize you’ve lost yourself, too.”

I remember hearing these words, silently nodding. Given to me by someone who had lost a parent as well, I kept thinking, more like promising myself, that I would somehow be different. The funny thing about grief is that it rears its ugly head in every nook and cranny of your life. And you’re changed forever.

But it’s days like National Grief Awareness Day that not only give me reprieve, but also make me recognize that grief isn’t meant to be tucked away in a perfect little box but it’s meant to reside within you in different capacities. Those capacities being ones I must acknowledge, thus making me even more appreciative of my loving grief community that recognized the new me and got me through.

So, if you find yourself in the position of being a friend, confidant, or partner along that journey, here are a few ways to build that community and intentionally be there for the person you love—

Be present and understanding. Grieving is a process that takes time, and while everyone experiences it differently, knowing someone is there gives a safe space of trust. That being said, know when to give space where needed, but also be attuned to times when they may need that quick outreach.

Simply give practical help. Announced or unannounced, think as if you were helping a friend who was welcoming a new baby. How can you be helpful? Simple, tiny ways. Offer childcare, send a random meal, or pick up an extra task at work. Those little things go the extra mile.

Recognize change and know it’s okay. Your friend will not be the same person, and that’s okay. People cope with grief in different ways. Super communicative or restrictively sharing is okay, but be mindful to ask, “how do you want to talk about it?” 

Specify how you can help. “I’m going to the grocery store. Can I pick up anything for you?” or “Would you like to go for a walk together?” “Have you mentioned these feelings to anyone else?” Simple phrases that don’t put deep decision-making on the griever but give a new outlet for their grief. 

Being mindful that everyone’s grief journey is unique is truly the most important thing you can do! It shows your friend that you care and that you’re there and learning from them and for them during their difficult time. It’s the unsaid things like your presence and understanding can make such a difference in a healing process.