How to help during a time of grief


When a person you care about experiences the death of a loved one, it can be difficult to know what action to take and what words to choose to express your sympathy. Larry Mitchell, the owner and director of Mitchell Funeral Home, has been in the industry for over 35 years. Over time, he’s gained a practical, yet emotionally insightful, understanding of how to navigate this challenging time. Here are some of his suggestions for managing the situation:

  • Be present to talk or to simply share some quiet time.

  • Remember that grief is very personal, and no two people experience loss the same way.  Avoid saying, “I know how you feel.”

  • Dropping off food is great. Sharing a meal, or a pot of tea, is even better.

  • Make a solid plan about how you will help. Rather than saying, “call me if you need anything,” pick a time and a task. It will give them something concrete to look forward to.

  • Choose a task you feel comfortable doing, like raking the leaves, getting groceries, minding the family pet, cleaning the house, driving them places, taking care of young children, helping with the funeral arrangements, insurance or other paperwork.

  • Attend the funeral or celebration of life. Even if it’s inconvenient, there’s strength in numbers. This relatively small effort can make an enormous impact and create a feeling of solidarity.

  • Avoid clichés like, “they’re in a better place,” or “it was meant to be.” Also avoid sentences that start with “at least…” or “you should.” It’s more empathetic to simply state a known truth, like, “this must hurt a lot,” or “I’m sorry that you’re going through this.”

  • Don’t forget about them after a few weeks or months have passed. Often people are inundated with support immediately following a death, but then fall off people’s radar.

Of course, every situation is different and there’s no absolute rulebook on how to handle grief. “Some people feel so nervous about saying or doing the wrong thing that they don’t say or do anything,” says Larry. “This is likely a symptom of our society’s broader fear of death.”

Don’t avoid the person; that’s likely going to hurt most. If you make a genuine effort to provide heartfelt comfort and support, your efforts most likely will not be in vain.