Navigating grief: How to support those grieving

Grief is a solitary journey that we must all do alone. It is truly the dark night of the soul.


You may feel like you cannot focus or concentrate. You may feel hopeless at moments and filled with disbelief or rage at others. You may feel you do not have time for others you are normally in close relationship with and push them away. You might think that you are the only one in the deepest of despairs.

It is important to recognise people grieve differently and because someone is not grieving the same way you are, it does not mean that they are not grieving at all.

How to support someone who's grieving

Remember to ask what the person who is grieving might need from you. Sometimes having another present may be enough, just to sit with the person and be available, let them be the one who reaches out to touch your hand or to hold you. Words are not as important as being fully present.

There is no resolution so do not offer one. Try to be gentle with the other, patient and kind. Recognising that they can only manage one moment at a time.

Maybe get them to watch the sunrise or sunset, to listen to the birds, to feel the rain. There is no cure for grief, only a process towards survival, a different way of being without the lost loved one.

Remember it is the relationship that is lost, it may be a pet that the person is grieving for but it is not only a cat or another pet, it is the meaning of the relationship. It may be an early miscarriage or a stillbirth and again you cannot know how the person is feeling in the loss, no death is less or more than another, it is what it means for the person.

With the death of a child or a stillbirth or miscarriage, there is not only the physical loss but the loss of a promised future.

It is important to note with suicide, the person left behind may wish or believe if they did something different the other may have not taken their life. It may be helpful to support them to recognise that this was the person’s choice and there was nothing anyone could do to stop their actions.

Most of all whatever someone feels with regard to the death, help them realise the feeling is okay and to sit with it, of course, discourage them if they want to seek revenge on another person whom they may blame for the person’s death.

Remember, no one gets over death they just learn to live with it.

Avoid statements such as:

  • It was just an animal.
  • It was their time to die, they had a long life.
  • Is it not time to get over it?
  • You can get pregnant again.
  • It is time to get on with it.

How to listen

We listen fully by hearing the words but also the intonations when the person is speaking, this may also mean the pace of their speech, the volume, the flow and emphasis on certain words. We also are aware of their bodily expressions (body language) as well as their facial expressions.

How their culture or ethnicity may impact on the way they communicate.

You are aware of the feeling that is elicited in you and this means which senses of yours are impacted, and you know you are fully listening when all your senses apart from taste are impacted and so have a sense of the person’s situation from their perspective.

Listening is this way gives the person a sense that you are being with rather than doing to the other.


Something that may help is to encourage the person to remember the person as they were rather than at the end of life or an illness. Maybe ask what the dead person’s name was, what is their favourite memory of this person and that anything that they ever shared with the person or what that person shared with them, lives on within them. That the last act of love is to remember.

Activities to try:

1. Maybe to make a memory box – what to put in the memory box, anything that is precious to their shared relationship with the lost one.

2. Or write a letter to the person who is now gone, if they did not have a chance to say goodbye or to say something that was left unsaid.

3. That it is also okay to be angry with a dead person and this may be helpfully expressed in a letter.

4. Or create a ritual in memory, plant a tree or revisit a special shared place.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Dingley, LE16 8PQ
Written by Maureen Anderson, UKCP Bsc Psychology. MA Psychotherapy/Counselling
Dingley, LE16 8PQ

Maureen Anderson M.A. Bsc(hons) psychology. U.K.C.P. registered psychotherapist/clinical supervisor.

Currently co-writing a book mental health workers on how to use Clinical Supervision.

Experience includes private practise and working within mental health, prisons, young people, couples and refugees.

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