How to Help a Grieving Friend

Sophie Miura

When we think about close friendships, the good times often come to mind—travelling together, sharing dating stories, or celebrating a milestone over champagne. Although good memories draw us close, it’s how we act in tough times that creates lifelong friendships. It’s often considered a taboo topic, but knowing what to do in a time of need is a crucial life skill. To find out about etiquette, we spoke to psychologist and grief expert Dr. Heidi Horsley. Read on for a modern guide to what to say, do, and give to help a friend in need.

When you’re not sure what to say it’s easy to use clichés, but Dr. Horsley says generic words and phrases should be avoided. “Clichés minimize our losses. They don’t validate and acknowledge how very hard it is to lose someone,” she explains. A common mistake is starting a sentence with “at least” says Dr. Horsley. “It sends a message that we need to get over the loss, have closure and move on.” Another overused word: closure. “Closure is for business accounts, not love accounts,” she says.  

Flowers are a beautiful gesture, but weeks later they can be a sad reminder of transience. Instead, bring a home cooked dish to show your support. When we’re down, day-to-day tasks like cooking can go undone, so bringing food rather than flowers is a practical and thoughtful alternative.

Is sending a condolence card good etiquette or impersonal? Horsley says to skip the card and do better: send yourself. “It’s far more powerful. I used to send a card and now I send myself. Having someone by your side is the best gift you can ever give a friend,” she says. Just showing up and being present is a strong gesture they won’t forget.

During a time of crisis, it can seem like your friend is overwhelmed with support. What separates a good friend from an acquaintance is remembering to reconnect when time passes. “Initially after a loss you get a lot of support, however as the months go on, people return to their lives and it lessens significantly,” says Dr. Horsley.  “Once the reality sets in, you need the support, and often it is not there.” Simply dropping by a friend’s house after work or offering to cook shows you’re still thinking of them, even as others move on.

Looking for more advice about how to support a loved one? Shop our edit of books about finding hope and purpose below.

How have you helped a friend in need? Share your advice in the comments below.

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