31 things to say and do to help someone who is grieving (other than flowers)

Last Modified: 1/27/2023


This post was written by Jon Swanson, PhD, staff chaplain, Parkview Health.

The well-intentioned default gesture when someone’s loved one dies is to send flowers. But some people are allergic to flowers, and, while they are beautiful, there are only so many people to take them home after the services are over.

Helping someone through a significant death in their life is difficult. I’ve already written one book on the topic of navigating these challenging circumstances, and have been conducting research on the subject of how to be helpful in loss. I wanted to know the other options for words or gestures that people felt brought them comfort during their time of despair. So, I asked. 

I got lots of answers and stories of hurt. I also learned that, while everyone wants the loss to be noticed, not everyone finds the same things helpful.

This leads me to my first piece of advice for those hoping to support a grieving friend or family member: Start with what you know about your loved one and their relationship with the individual who passed away. And then do something.

Not sure what feels right? Here are 31 suggestions provided by people in grief.

Gestures and words to comfort a grieving loved one

1. Ask me to tell stories about my loved one.

2. Bring food for the next day or two.

3. Call or text when you find out about the loss.

4. Bring food for family members at the funeral home or memorial service.

5. Care for the outside of my house (mow lawn, shovel walk, rake leaves).

6. Send me a card.

7. Tell me stories about and share pictures you have of my loved one.

8. Tell me that I made good care choices for my loved one.

9. Send a card on the anniversary of the loss (a week, a month, or a year later).

10. Give me space.

11. Give me a list of helpful grief resources.

12. Clean my house before family comes for the funeral.

13. Acknowledge that “this is hard.”

14. Tell me that I don’t need to be strong.

15. Ask me if I want a prayer (rather than just doing it).

16. Give me a trusted book.

17. Help me think about counseling resources for my kids.

18. Give money to the designated memorial.

19. Sit quietly with me.

20. Call or text 2-3 weeks after the funeral.

21. Attend the funeral or memorial service.

22. Be with me without making me talk about my grief.

23. Attend the visitation before the funeral or memorial service.

24. Tell me that the grieving process is going to take time.

25. Give me a hug.

26. Ask me how I’m doing.

27. Say to me, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

28. Take my kids to do something so that I can focus on funeral arrangements.

29. Talk by name about my loved one.

30. Take me to lunch.

31. Tell me it’s okay to feel a little bit relieved. (Especially when the illness has been long and the care has been difficult.)

This is not a complete list, but it does provide some simple suggestions for supporting a loved one who is hurting. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to processing a loss. Remember that it takes time and there are resources available for those who need them.

Need assistance?

Contact us