How to Support Someone Who Is Grieving

How to Support Someone Who Is Grieving

Grief is a natural response to losing someone or something meaningful to us. When someone we care about experiences a loss, navigating life afterward can be painful for them. By learning how to support someone who is grieving and how to identify grief triggers, we can provide invaluable comfort on their road to healing. 

Signs of grief

Grief responses can vary, and they can change the way a person normally thinks, acts, and feels. Even though grief affects us all, we may not initially know how to support someone who is grieving. It’s important to remember that these responses can change moment by moment, day by day, and week by week. 

Common signs of grief include:

Emotional grief responses

  • Conflicting emotions, such as sadness and joy
  • Feeling out of control
  • Shock
  • Anger or bitterness
  • Fear or anxiety
  • Guilt or regret
  • Relief
  • Loneliness
  • Numbness
  • Helplessness or hopelessness

Physical grief responses

  • Hollow feeling in stomach
  • Heaviness in chest and limbs
  • Crying or sighing
  • Lump in throat
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Weaker immune response
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Higher blood pressure

Mental grief responses

  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Blaming oneself or others for what happened
  • Thinking “if only” something had been different or that something “should have” been different
  • Recurring thoughts about death or dying
  • Trying to make sense of what happened
  • Sudden rushes of memories

Behavioral grief responses

  • Isolating from family or friends
  • Avoiding reminders, or focusing on reminders
  • Blaming others
  • Using more alcohol or other substances
  • Researching or reviewing facts about what happened
  • Losing one’s temper

Grief changes over time

Grief responses can be strong and nearly constant in the days and months after a significant loss. Little by little, these responses can change, and slowly but surely, the grieving person may start to resume day-to-day activities.

However, reminders, or “triggers,” of their loss can happen when it’s least expected. You may notice that reactions often follow grief triggers like: 

  • The calendar day the loss occurred
  • Holidays
  • Birthdays
  • Marriage anniversaries
  • Weddings and new births
  • Particular songs or locations

When someone you love is re-experiencing signs of grief 

It’s normal for people who have experienced a loss to mourn, regardless of how much time has passed. Here are a few suggestions for how to support someone who is grieving:

  • Honor the memory of their loved one. Tell stories, look at photos, volunteer for a cause they care about, or start a tradition in their honor. Visit a gravesite or memorial, write them a letter, or go to their favorite restaurant.
  • Build a community. Offer to put them in touch with others who have experienced a significant loss. This may be an opportunity for the grieving person to talk to people in the community, hear their stories, and reflect upon their experiences. 
  • Hold boundaries and safe spaces. Acknowledge the importance of quiet time. Whether it’s being out in nature or practicing a meditation exercise, carving out time away from distractions and noise may be helpful as they heal. 
  • Be present. Allow the grieving person to openly share what they’re feeling without trying to “fix” things or offer advice. Ask how you can help, and follow through on your commitment to support. Encourage them to seek grief counseling if needed. 

People experiencing loss may not always know when a grief trigger is coming. Sometimes triggers happen randomly or as a result of an unexpected reminder. Although it’s harder to plan ahead in these instances, you can still support them in managing their feelings connected to grief.

Helping others navigate grief with care

The loss of a loved one can change anyone, but mourning the loss and expressing feelings are natural parts of grieving. If you know someone mourning a loss, Lyra can help. 

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About the reviewer
Andrea Holman, PhD

Dr. Holman is a DEI&B program manager on the workforce transformation team at Lyra Health. Previously, she served as a tenured associate professor of psychology at Huston-Tillotson University. She served as co-chair of the health and wellness working group for the city of Austin's task force on Institutional Racism & Systemic Inequities and now works as a leader in the nonprofit Central Texas Collective for Race Equity that resulted from the task force. She has conducted research on understanding the psychological experience of African Americans and racial advocacy from the perspective of Black and Latinx Americans. She has contributed to articles (including publications in The Counseling Psychologist and Harvard Business Review), book chapters, national conference presentations, virtual seminars, workshops, and a number of podcasts on these subjects.

Clinically reviewed by
Andrea Holman, PhD
Program Manager, Workforce Transformation
By The Lyra Team
1 of April 2024 - 3 min read
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