How to Support our Loved Ones who are Grieving

Written by: VSS Victim Services Coordinator, Melissa Isenhart

Most, if not all of us, at some point in our lives, will know someone who is grieving a loss. Losses come in many shapes and forms and our connections to them may be peripheral or intimate. You may have experienced a time when you were trying to support a friend or family member who was grieving a loss and you just didn’t know what to do or say. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, expectedly or unexpectedly, the loss of a pet or even a relationship that came to an end. Sometimes we are just at a loss for words. And THAT’S OK! It’s important to know that everyone grieves differently, but when it comes down to it, just being present for them is one of the best things you can do.

You don’t have to say anything and you don’t have to try to find something to say that will put an end to their grief or somehow make them “feel better.” As a friend or loved one, your job is not to make them “feel better,” but rather to just be there for them in whatever way that is comforting or helpful to them. Author and therapist Megan Divine says, as a friend or loved one, your job is to “Offer to make ordinary every-day things easier so that your grieving person can have the luxury of just being devastated.”

 Ted Rynearson, who is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington and the founder of the Violent Loss Bereavement Society, interviewed a number of survivors, who all expressed the importance of their friends and loved ones just “being there” for them. Many also voiced appreciation for friends and family who did everyday things for them when they were unable to focus on those tasks. Most said that although they thought people meant well when they said “let me know if I can help you with anything” or “let me know if I can do anything for you,” that was not helpful.

Most of the survivors interviewed weren’t able to articulate what they needed in the moment, but were extremely grateful when loved ones went ahead and did something for them to make everyday life a little bit easier. Ted Rynearson’s website, gives a great list of things you can do for someone who is grieving, and I wanted to share it here:

  • Show up and listen
  • Bring them a meal (remember breakfast and lunch, too!)
  • Help with lawn care
  • Decorate their front door for the upcoming holiday
  • Answer when they call/text
  • Babysit their kids
  • Help with their laundry
  • Drop-off/pick-up their dry cleaning
  • Get coffee together
  • Invite them out for a walk
  • Include them in social events (even if they have turned you down in the past)
  • Do their dishes
  • Wash their car
  • Bring groceries
  • Offer to cook together
  • Bring healthy snacks
  • Make them a music playlist
  • Ask if they want to talk, and just listen
  • Ask if others have left dishes you could return
  • Check-in regularly
  • Give a gift certificate for self-care
  • Take their garbage/recycling out
  • Help with transportation
  • Keep asking, even if they’ve refused help before
  • Replenish pantry staples
  • Buy them stamps and stationery
  • Set up a laundry service
  • Set up a cleaning service
  • Bring paper products – toilet paper, tissues, paper towels, napkins, plates, etc.
  • Gift cards for retail therapy
  • Bring mints or gum
  • Help with their pets
  • Plan a fun night for their kids
  • Bring toiletries
  • Offer to vacuum
  • Bring coffee or dessert
  • Bring art supplies
  • Bring a journal
  • Gift certificate for a writing workshop
  • Gift card to a bookstore
  • Invite them out into nature
  • Ask about their loved one by name
  • Set a calendar reminder to reach out around milestones and holidays
  • Bring fresh fruit
  • Offer to organize a memory book or legacy box
  • Watch a funny movie together
  • Invite them to do an exercise class with you
  • Do home repairs
  • Run errands
  • Invite them for the holidays
  • Help organize bills
  • Send a care package
  • Help with pet vet appointments
  • Take them to a farmer’s market
  • Go for a bike ride together
  • Go volunteer with them
  • Accompany them to spiritual services
  • Bring fresh vegetables
  • Help sort through or pack up the loved one’s belongings
  • Help with taxes
  • Help organize finances
  • Show up if there is an emergency
  • Research resources for them

When offering support to your loved one who is grieving, remember to be flexible, be specific and be consistently there for them, but only offer what you are comfortable offering. Even if what you offer doesn’t seem like much, it will most likely be more appreciated by your grieving person than you will know. 

For more information on grief and free grief resources from Ted Rynearson, you can visit his website at