• Date: 30/01/2017
  • Cemetery: GMCT Home

Have you ever wanted to help a grieving friend or loved one, but not known what to say?

In partnership with the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement, GMCT has developed a range of resources to help you find the right words of comfort for your loved ones. Here we share five important ways you can look after others - and yourself - in times of grief.  

You can find the full series of fact sheets here.  

Remember that grief is an individual experience

When helping those grieving, there is no formula for what is right or wrong. What one person finds helpful, another person may not.

We do not always know how people are grieving simply by what we see. Some people are open and expressive with their grief, crying, and wanting to talk, whilst others are more private, may be reluctant to talk and prefer to keep busy.

Grief is individual and personal, and it’s important to respect each other’s way of grieving, even if we don’t necessarily understand it.

It is important to remember that grief is a process, not an event. Profound grief is not something that we just get over. Rather, it is something that we gradually learn to live around as we continue to lead our lives.

Be present

It can be hard to know what to do or say to someone who is grieving, but don’t allow this to keep you away, as silence and distance can be very hurtful.

The most important thing is to make sure your friend or relative knows that you care. Find a way to show them this, whether it’s by visiting, calling or texting, giving food, bringing flowers, or sending cards and letters.

If you are unsure what might help, ask. For example, you could ask: “Would you like me to do some shopping for you?” or “Would you like me to go to the cemetery with you?”

Avoid platitudes or comments which may be dismissive of another’s grief

Words of empathy can provide immense comfort for a grieving person, but try not to say “I know” or “I understand” unless you really do. Avoid platitudes and comments which may downplay, rationalise or justify the death, such as “it’s God’s will” or “they had a good innings”.

Don’t let fear of saying the wrong thing keep you away. If you worry you have said the wrong thing, apologise. Do not let your relationship with the grieving person be damaged.

Allow the grieving person to guide the conversation if they are comfortable. Try:

  • Listening to them, and being accepting of their strong emotions

  • sharing your memories and stories of their loved one with them

  • asking how they are, both initially and on an ongoing basis.

Provide age-appropriate support

Like adults, children experience, express and process grief in a variety of ways depending on their age, stage of development, personality, family culture, understanding of death, past experiences of loss and the context of their bereavement. When considering how best to provide support, the child’s unique grieving needs should also be considered.

  • Pre-school-aged children often find it difficult to understand the finality and irreversibility of death. This understanding often results in terms such as “death” and “forever” needing repeated explanations. Children may also expect the deceased to return.

  • Most children of primary school age are beginning to understand the concept that death is permanent, though younger school-aged children may engage in ‘magical’ thinking, trying to outwit death. Due to a limited understanding of death, primary-school-aged children may also have an increased fear in regards to about their own death or feel responsible for the deceased’s death.

  • Adolescents need and want truth as much as adults. When they don’t get it they may lose trust with that adult and attempt to piece together information with peers, which can often be incorrect or embellished, resulting in worry and confusion. Try to be open, honest and consistent in your communications with them.

Know when to seek further help

Grief doesn’t have a timeline, and it’s not unusual for grief to be felt over an extended period of time. It’s okay to admit you are struggling with your grief, whether weeks, months, years or even decades after the death.

Although grief can be very painful, most people (85–90 per cent) find that with the support of their family and friends and their own resources, they gradually find ways to learn to live with their loss and do not need to seek professional help.

If you or a loved one is finding it difficult to manage on a day-to-day basis, it may be helpful to see a counsellor or other health professional. It’s okay to admit you are struggling with your grief and no-one will think any less of you if you ask for help along the way.

Visit our Dealing with Grief page for links to key support services.



GMCT gratefully acknowledges The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement in developing our grief and bereavement fact sheets and information.