Our Guide to Supporting the Bereaved

Category: Supporting The Bereaved


When you are not directly involved in making arrangements after the death of a friend or family member, it can be difficult to know how to show your support for the bereaved who were closest to the deceased.

In the days and weeks after the passing of a loved one, it’s important that you let your friends or family members know you’re there for them. The thoughtfulness of friends and relatives is vital when supporting the bereaved in their time of need. It can be a genuine source of strength for the bereaved to know they have a support network they can depend on.

Understand the grieving process when supporting the bereaved

Although the grieving process is different for everyone, the better your understanding of grief and its five common stages, the better equipped you will be to help a bereaved friend or family member.

It’s important to accept that grief has an unpredictable way of rearing its head. Some people remain very insular and keep their feelings and emotions to themselves, while others may let out their grief verbally and exhibit extreme behaviours such as anger, despair and fear.

Ultimately, the priority for those wondering how to help the bereaved is to provide them with reassurance that their feelings are normal. There’s no doubt bereavement can be an emotional rollercoaster, so be sure to cut them some slack and help them to feel that their loss is acknowledged.

It’s just as important to listen as it is to talk

Supporting the bereaved requires compassion and a healthy dose of patience. Many people struggle to know the right words to say to grieving people. However, in most cases, just being there for your bereaved friend or family member to listen can be equally beneficial.

Although you should never try to force a loved one to open up and talk about their grief, letting them know you are there to listen and talk freely about their loss can be help enough.

Don’t shy away from talking about the deceased. It will give your bereaved friend or family member a chance to process and accept the death. By lending a kind ear and listening compassionately, you are doing your bit to help your loved one heal.

Let them know you are thinking of them

Even if you cannot provide physical support to a bereaved friend or family member, it’s important to let them know you are there for them in an emotional sense.

Writing a letter of sympathy and condolence can help you to express your feelings and demonstrate the love and respect you have not only for the deceased but your loved one too.

Sympathy letters can bring immense comfort to the bereaved. They may cherish and store these letters for many years and read them regularly as a source of solace.

There is no ‘textbook’ way to write a letter of condolence. However, it’s a good opportunity to share fond memories of the deceased and offer your help and support where you can. We’ve written a few sample letters of condolence that you may wish to use as a starting point for your own letter.

Some of the short verses within these sample letters may also prove useful for inclusion on cards for sympathy bouquets and memorial tributes.

What to expect at a traditional funeral

When the time comes to pay your respects to the deceased and your loved ones at the funeral, it’s important that you understand funeral etiquette and what to expect throughout the day.

In advance of the funeral, it’s always a good idea to consult the family as to the dress code for the service. Traditionally, black is the most commonly worn colour at funerals due to its links with mourning and grief. However, families are increasingly requesting that bright colours are worn in a symbolic, more uplifting celebration of life.

If you’re conscious of not wanting to disrespect the family arranging the service and you’re unsure of the dress code, it’s always best to opt for neutral tones and formal accessories.

When you arrive at a funeral service, it can be difficult to know what to say to the family of the deceased. Although nothing will compensate for their loss, it is always respectful to extend your sympathies and offer a few kind words.

You may feel comfortable even sharing a fond memory of the deceased to try and raise a smile. However, if you want to express your condolences in a sympathetic and succinct manner, here are a few simple expressions you could use pre or post-funeral:

● I’m very sorry for your loss

● [The deceased] was such a great person to be around – they will be sadly missed

● You are all in my thoughts and prayers

● Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you need anything

Additional ways to support the bereaved include making donations on behalf of the family. Increasingly, families are choosing charities or associations connected to the deceased for their funeral donations. It’s respectful to donate the same amount of money you would ordinarily spend on funeral flowers.

Many funeral services will also include a reception after the service, known informally as a ‘wake’. These private functions are generally hosted in a hotel, pub or even at the family home. One of the best ways you can support the bereaved is to go to the wake and share happy memories of their loved one.

Seek out Bereavement Support Groups for loved ones

We all deal with losses in our own way. The grieving process is one that’s very personal and unique to us all. If you want to help grieving friends or family members to work through their emotions, it’s a great idea to suggest bereavement support or counselling.

There are one-to-one and group-based bereavement support groups available across the region that can meet your grieving friends or family in person or lend a compassionate ear over the telephone.

Cruse Bereavement Care

● The Sue Ryder online Bereavement Community

The Loss Foundation

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