Skip to main content

How to Help a Grieving Friend or Family Member

Losing a loved one is difficult. It takes awhile to get used to the new normal.  Here are some ways you can help a grieving friend or family member, based on my own experience of losing my husband.

Losing a loved one is difficult. It takes awhile to get used to the new normal. Here are some ways you can help a grieving friend or family member, based on my own experience of losing my husband.

Grief Recovery

When you lose a loved one, your life continues despite the hole in your heart. The sun still rises each morning; you still need to provide for your family; regular responsibilities of daily life continue. This is extremely overwhelming.

I lost my husband over ten years ago and needed help to get to my "new normal." It took several years, but without this help, I could not have continued functioning and carrying all of the responsibilities on my shoulders.

If someone asks how they can help, you can direct them to a chore or task you need help with. The items below are not in order of importance because everyone has their own priorities.

My sister-in-law and oldest son stayed after the funeral to help me begin the grieving process. It was important because my mind was running in so many directions—worrying about multiple things, and they were able to be rational and keep me focused on what needed to get done.

1. Cook a Meal or Offer to Have Your Grieving Loved One(s) Over for Dinner

Consuming healthy food is an essential piece of the healing process. For two solid months, people brought us dinners. We froze some, and it sustained us for even longer.

I did not have the energy in the first 4-6 months to come home and make dinner after picking up the children from school, helping them with homework, and chauffeuring them to sports activities. There are social media sites that set up calendars for group help.

You can also invite your grieving loved one(s) over to your house for a meal. This was such a welcome gift for us as it not only provided sustenance but also the fellowship that comes from sitting around the table and sharing a meal.

Many people who just lost a loved one don't have the energy to keep up with household chores.

Many people who just lost a loved one don't have the energy to keep up with household chores.

2. Clean Their House

I was physically unable to do anything strenuous for at least two months. Grieving takes a lot of energy, and you use it up just thinking about your loved one who is now gone.

Two wonderful ladies from our school community just showed up at my door one day with cleaning supplies in hand and said they were there to clean my house. This was their way of helping, and it was such a relief for me. Plus, it was a pick-me-up to have a spotless house.

I ended up hiring someone to regularly clean my house as this was a huge chore for me that I just could not find time to perform (my two older kids are home, and I am now able to maintain the outside so we feel this justifies the cost of having someone clean the inside).

3. Offer to Help With Transportation

In the case of losing a spouse, you are now down to one driver who is responsible for your children and yourself. This is a big one.

We all lead busy lives and know how many times we need to be in two places (or more) at once, so doing it solo is impossible. I had to rely on people to help me, and they wanted to help. Remember when they offered? Call them! Ask them to help. It will be good for you, and it will make them feel good that they can do something for you. Even many years after losing my husband, there are still times I ask for help and feel blessed to have friends that understand my situation.

Consider this too: Give a break to your friend or family member by offering to drive them somewhere you may be going together. It is a huge gift!

Don't put the burden on your grieving friend to reach out when they are feeling lonely.

Don't put the burden on your grieving friend to reach out when they are feeling lonely.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Patientslounge

4. Call or Pay Them a Visit

It’s important that you extend yourself to the grieving person and not leave it laying in their lap. There is always going to be hesitation on the part of the grieving person to actually call someone, as they feel like they are putting someone out.

It is very meaningful if you call or visit them. Write it down on your calendar, or put it on your to-do list—any way you can remember to reach out is better than leaving it up to the grieving person. This is applicable not only in the first months but forever.

5. Provide Technology Assistance

My husband was the techie in our family; in fact, he oftentimes solved serious problems for people with Apple computers—our own Apple genius!

We relied on him to fix the simplest computer/TV/electronic problems so when the first big technological issue arose, I was a complete mess, sobbing and missing him badly.

If you are good at technology, please consider offering your talent to help someone who may be low on the technical ladder.

The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not 'get over' the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but, you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to."

— Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and John Kessler

6. Babysit the Kids

As an only parent (which is different than a single parent: A single parent still may have the other parent, just not in the same household), I needed a break from my children and they from me!

Anytime you are available to scoop up someone's kids and take them for a day—or even an overnight stay— gives both sides numerous refreshing possibilities for mental health.

A prime example was my friends Ellen and Jess picked up my two younger kids and took them Christmas shopping to get presents for their siblings and me. I supplied the funds, and they supplied the time—what a gift! Put it on your calendar now.

7. Offer to Help Organize Their Finances

In the beginning, a trusted family member or close friend is a valuable resource in keeping financially sound. My husband was the financial guru in our household, and I had to learn how to manage our finances, learn about investments, and understand our budget.

I needed a lot of help to get where I am, but with the help of a very dear, close friend, I am now able to manage my household easily. If this is your specialty, offer your help in any way you can.

Part of a mural in downtown Ft. Worth

Part of a mural in downtown Ft. Worth

8. Volunteer to Do Yard Work

When you are grieving, it's difficult to take care of yourself, so the outside of your house usually takes a hit.

If someone offers to help with yard work, take them up on it; this is not the time to be shy. If you have a yard service but someone offers to help you, cancel the service for a few months and save the money.

This is a good chore for a neighbor. One day I heard a noise coming from my backyard, and it confused me. When I looked out the window, my neighbor was just tackling a job in my yard. (He still does surprise jobs for me!)

Another time, a family of six from our church came over the day after Thanksgiving and raked leaves for three hours. That's a lot of leaves! I have never forgotten these acts of kindness and try to pay them forward when I can.

9. Perform Auto Maintenance

Here's another thing that's of importance: The first time I needed some car maintenance I went to the local garage that we have used for years. I asked for the manager, explained who I was (he already was familiar with my face), and told him I needed the same level of confidence that he would pay my husband, and asked him point-blank if I could expect that from him. He said I could so he earned my trust. Sometimes you just have to be blazingly honest to make yourself understood. I was not rude nor sappy; I just stated it matter of factly.

You need a go-to person to ask questions any time of day or night. My brother or brother-in-laws filled this gap and they continue to do so today.

10. Help With Grocery Shopping

Venturing into the grocery store with a list in hand felt noble until I saw foods that my husband enjoyed. There was an immediate breakdown to where I had to leave my cart and depart the store. Other times, it was gut-wrenching to see the smaller amount of groceries in my cart.

A friend who lives nearby offered to help with anything, so she went to the store for me about four times and when I finally went by myself without crying, I called her to celebrate as I thought she deserved to know she helped me over this hump. Nourishment for a grieving person is essential, so this is an excellent way to be of use.

After I lost my husband, I didn't have the energy to keep up with my garden. Luckily, my neighbor offered to help.

After I lost my husband, I didn't have the energy to keep up with my garden. Luckily, my neighbor offered to help.

11. Offer Up Your Gardening Skills

For me, this was huge. We have a big yard and garden. My husband's death occurred exactly when we should have started planting our spring garden. There was no way, physically or mentally, I could have done this, yet the organic, healthy food we produce was so important to me.

I have a dear friend who took this job on as his gift to me. Twelve years later he still comes and helps with tough jobs or repairs. Please consider doing this, especially if it is your talent. Just imagine what a few potted plants or flowers would do to brighten up a porch or walkway for someone in grief.

12. Organize Photos or Collages

So many of our memories are made in pictures or videos that are stored on a computer or phone. Consider putting an album, collage, or picture book together to bring much joy to the family. One of the most thoughtful things we received after our loss came from my niece Kate; she gifted each of us a photo frame. We filled them immediately and each of us has that framed photo near and dear to us.

Consider this: Our daughter got married six weeks before her daddy died. I never ordered wedding photos.

13. Help With Holiday Decorations

The task of decorating for a holiday is overwhelming after losing a loved one, so you can really be of help by offering your time and talent at this busy time of year.

If my brother-in-law would not have come to visit to help us get our tree up, I'm certain we would not have been able to do it ourselves. You can help get boxes down from the attic or storage or help put up outdoor lights and decorations.

A family came over and helped with our outside lights the first Christmas after losing my husband, and we all just beamed looking at the house afterwards. I would have never done it at all if it was left up to me. It was the perfect Christmas gift. If you are the giver of this gift, put it on your calendar to check with the family again next holiday season.

And remember, they have to be taken down also. My friend Daryl did this with me for several years. Once again, when I did it myself, I called her to celebrate.

If you're grieving, accept help from others. They love you and care about your wellbeing. You don't have to do this journey alone.

If you're grieving, accept help from others. They love you and care about your wellbeing. You don't have to do this journey alone.

Grievers: Accept the Help and Pay It Forward When You Are Able

Once these gifts have been given to you, it is impossible to immediately pay them back. It is a time in your life when you have to be a "taker."

However, after you are established in your new life, you will be able to help others, especially since you know how they feel. It gives me a sense of worth to help grieving families with items on this list, and I feel strongly about passing it on. Even though sometimes I still "take," I am back on the giving side for those in need.

© 2014 Joanie Ruppel

Can You Add to This List?

Joanie Ruppel (author) from Keller, Texas on September 26, 2016:

I think helping others is why I write my feelings and thoughts down - thank you for helping get it out there!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 01, 2016:

This is such an important topic. I still have my husband but have lost my brothers and parents, grandparents and many more beloved people in my life. I can relate to the crying in the grocery store...also crying when hearing a song on the car radio...and more. You are so fortunate to have so many caring people in your life that helped fill some voids at least temporarily. My condolences on the loss of your husband. I plan to share this hub far and wide! This may help many people out there who are wondering how they can help a grieving person.

Joanie Ruppel (author) from Keller, Texas on September 04, 2015:

Thank you Jack, I wrote from my heart. If my experience helps others, that was my goal in getting it out there. My best to you!

Jack Hagan from New York on July 15, 2015:

I am going to share this hub with my friends. It gives information about all the ways we can help the grieving families and show our sympathy on their loss. People are afraid of going to the funeral ceremonies because they don't know how to greet and help the family members of the deceased. This article will be great source of help for such people.

Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on October 20, 2014:

Dearest Joanie,

Give God the thanks. I am only a mortal. But I sense that you are gifted with such a deep, sensitive gift of understanding of those who grieve and hurt that it is easy for you to reach out to them. Actually, I envy you.

But dear friend, this was a masterpiece.

Keep up the great work and Hey, I Appreciate YOU for Following me.

I hope we can share hub ideas and I hope to learn from you.

God bless and direct you.

Joanie Ruppel (author) from Keller, Texas on October 20, 2014:

Dear Kenneth, you humble me with your opinion of my hub. It did indeed come from my heart, so it was very easy to write. Following you now!

Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on October 14, 2014:


Terrific job with a sensitive subject. Voted all but funny, but now I realize when my sister passed, I just sensed that her two daughters might need a relief from the grief, so I told a few funny stories about what their mom and I did in their younger years and they laughed and joined in with stories.

I wasn't adding to your wondeful story. Just sharing.

I will tell you the truth. I really love this hub. And here are the reasons why:

1. This is an excellent piece of writing. Simply amazing.

2, I loved the way you worded this hub.

3. Graphics, superb.

4. This hub was helpful, informative and very interesting.

5. Voted Up and all of the choices--except Funny.

6. I loved your topic.

You are certainly a gifted writer. Please keep up the fine work.


Kenneth Avery, Hamilton, Alabama

Joanie Ruppel (author) from Keller, Texas on August 07, 2014:

@Heidi Vincent: Thank you very much!

Heidi Vincent from GRENADA on August 07, 2014:

Excellent and very comprehensive list, jsr54! This will certainly be a blessing to many.

Joanie Ruppel (author) from Keller, Texas on August 06, 2014:

@PAINTDRIPS: I agree Denise, that is very important. I still had two children in my household and they were the reason I got out of bed every morning. Thank you for your insight.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on August 06, 2014:

A pretty comprehensive list. I can only think that one thing that helped my mom was someone needing her. A friend of the family went to live with her for about 6 months because she was in need when my mom was in the midst of grief. This did more to help than we could have ever known.

Joanie Ruppel (author) from Keller, Texas on August 06, 2014:

@Merrci: Thank you for your valuable, affirming input. Blessings!

RinchenChodron on August 06, 2014:

Wow some wonderful suggestions here! Nothing to add at this time.

Merry Citarella from Oregon's Southern Coast on August 06, 2014:

All such good suggestions, Jsr54. I'm sorry for your loss. You've covered the most helpful. Having someone get a few groceries was one of my biggest. Doing one thing in a day--like going to the store--would be a total drain. I hope this helps others know what to do.

Joanie Ruppel (author) from Keller, Texas on August 03, 2014:

@bead at home mom: My heart is with you on the loss of your mother - mine has been gone for 29 years now and I still miss her! Allowing yourself your own time to feel everything is SO smart and a very key component to grieving. You sound like you are just where you should be, feeling it on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes hugs are the best medicine with no words necessary. Blessings!

bead at home mom on August 03, 2014:

Thank you for this great list...I just recently lost my mother and I've been very taken back by my grief and just how deeply it has effected me. It may sound silly but I just wasn't expecting it to effect me so deeply. So many things you have said I can actually understand now, can't imagine how devastated I would be if I lost my spouse or even a child, grown or not. Thank you again for sharing your experience with us, it has personally touched me and made me more aware of how to help others as well. If I were to add anything to the list I would say what has helped me is just being allowed my time...don't tell me things are going to be okay, don't tell me my mother is still with me and that she hasn't left me, just allow me to 'be' in that moment.

Loraine Brummer from Hartington, Nebraska on August 03, 2014:

Friends of ours lost two sons in a traffic accident, and about six months after their loss I expressed my reluctance to speak about her sons because I didn't want to hurt her. I had been remembering a birthday celebration with the boys and wanted to talk to her about it. She assured me that she was happy to know that her sons weren't being forgotten and welcomed the opportunity to talk about them. We laughed and cried at the same time while we talked about her boys. I no longer shy away from speaking about someones loved ones for fear of "reminding them of their sorrow."

Related Articles