The Three B's of Helping Mourners

Deciding what to do or say to support, comfort or encourage a friend or family member in grief can be threatening…if you let it be.  Unfortunately many are so scared of doing the wrong thing for a mourner that they end up doing nothing at all.  That is the worst thing that can happen.  When people around the mourner avoid him or her like the plague then the struggling mourner ends up with not enough help or no help at all during one of the darkest times of their lives…dealing with the aftermath of a death and the resulting emotional turmoil of grief. Simply remember these three steps when you feel challenged as to what to do or say for a grieving person:

  • BE AWARE AND INVOLVED. Of course, the precursor to helping any mourner is to know they might be in need of consolation, comfort and support.  In order to do that you have to be interested and involved in entering other people’s lives…no matter what their situation is.  More importantly, you have to be willing to take the risk of getting out of your comfort zone and extending support to someone who is hurting and possibly highly emotional.
  • BE PRESENT. The most important factor for the mourner to realize is that you are present and available to reach out to and ask for help and support.  Comforting words can be beneficial for the mourner in his or her sorrow, but words are not absolutely necessary.  Simply being there for the mourner in his or her time of need and listening without judging is the best care that you can provide.If you feel the need to say something, keep it simple.  “I’m so sorry for your loss”, “I am here to help in any way that I can” or “I love you” can break the ice and open the doors for you to help then and at later times in the mourner’s grief journey.  Two warnings though: (1) Avoid statements that try to explain why the loss took place or how the death might lead to good results and (2) avoid giving unsolicited advice.  Remember, what worked for you or someone you know during a grief experience might not be accepted or helpful to the mourner you want to comfort.Also it is wise that if you feel that you have to say something profound, life changing or inspirational that will “fix” the mourner or the situation, keep your mouth shut.  Often when people run in to rescue mourners with words, they end up saying inappropriate and sometimes hurtful statements.
  • BE ACTIVE. Often people around the mourner tell him or her, “If there is anything that you need, just give me a call.”  Many of them mean well; others are just saying something to get out of an awkward situation, never meaning to actually do something.The wisest advice if you really want to help a mourner is (1) Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself what would be helpful to you under those circumstances and (2) Just do it.  Mourners may protest at first when you offer, but insist in measures to help, support and comfort them without being pushy.  And then just do it.  Most mourners will appreciate your effort to help them.What can you do for mourners?  Here are some suggestions:
  • Clean their house or apartment
  • Mow their lawn
  • Do their laundry and/or other household chores
  • Take them to do their shopping or do their shopping for them
  • Offer to drive them on errands when they seem too tired or occupied to do those things on their own
  • Babysit his or her children or take the children on outings so the mourner can have some personal time
  • If they ask, help them fill out the mounds of paperwork that come after a death
  • Check in on them regularly, without being intrusive, hovering or appearing “nosey”
  • Listen, then listen again, and then listen some more. (Remember: no judgment or unsolicited advice.)
  • OR Be creative and come up with a list of comforting things to do on your own.

A last warning:  If the mourner should lash out in anger or reject your offers to help them, don’t take it personally.  Mourners can be highly emotional and sometimes irrational.  They are most likely mad at the situation, not you.  And don’t let their possible harsh words or rejection dampen your desire to help them.

Simply do for the mourner what you would want someone to do for you after a loved one dies.  Just be there for them, listen and not judge or try to direct their mourning or their grief journey.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunica Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on

Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX