Helping Someone Through Grief: Ways to Be Supportive After the Funeral

While it’s definitely thoughtful to offer assistance before the funeral, after the funeral is when many individuals and families need help the most. If you’re not sure how to support a grieving family, you’re not alone. Death and dying are topics that many of us avoid because we’re uncomfortable or simply don’t know the appropriate ways to help someone come to terms with their loss.  

According to experts David Kessler and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who have written two books together — On Death and Dying and On Grief and Grieving — there are five stages of grieving. Keep in mind that we don’t go from one stage to another in a chronological order. Someone may go in and out of stages on a random basis. Helping someone through grief is an ongoing process.  

The Five Stages of Grief

  1. Denial. When someone is in this stage, he or she is not ready to face the facts. Denial actually helps the person cope with the situation, as does shock. You cannot rush individuals who are in denial. You simply have to be there for them. 
  2. Anger. Anger is a natural emotion after the loss of a loved one. It can be directed inward or outward. The object of the anger could be the deceased; the survivor may be angry at being left alone. Anger, however, reflects the intensity of love held for the deceased. Do not try to make the person apologize for his/her anger. Let the anger flow and, if you happen to be the brunt of the anger, don’t take it personally. 
  3. Bargaining. Bargaining is very commonplace prior to a loved one’s death. We may bargain with the universe that “if I do x-y-z, please save my loved one.” After a death, the survivor uses bargaining to avoid feeling pain. Bargaining and guilt often go hand-in-hand. Guilt takes the form of “what if” – what if I had done such-and-such, would he/she still be alive? You can reassure the survivor that he/she was not responsible for the death, but you may just have to wait until this phase passes. 
  4. Depression. For depressed individuals (and their friends and family), it feels like this stage will never end. Let’s face it, losing a loved one is a depressing event, so being depressed is a natural reaction. In fact, if a survivor wasn’t depressed, you’d think something was amiss. Your inclination might be to coax the individual out of his/her funk, but it’s best if you let the person ride it out. However, if the person remains depressed for months on end or appears suicidal, it would be wise to intervene and suggest professional help. 
  5. Acceptance. Accepting the death of a loved one doesn’t mean the person is okay with it. It means he or she has come to the realization that this is a permanent situation. The individual acknowledges that he/she must deal with it, and move on. Acceptance sometimes comes with guilt, as in, “How can I be having fun when I’ve lost a loved one?” As a friend, you can tell the survivors that the deceased would have wanted him/her to continue enjoying life, not to mourn indefinitely. One big piece of acceptance is understanding that the grief will never fully go away – the person will just learn how to live with it. 

Helping Someone Through Grief Immediately After the Funeral

So how else can you help someone following a funeral? Immediately after the funeral, you can help coordinate food at the house of mourning. If no one was hired to do so, place the platters of food on the buffet or dining room table. Make sure there’s ice for beverages and paper goods to use. 

During the visitation after the funeral, you can serve as a buffer between well-meaning guests and the worn-out family. This is an excellent example of how you can support the grieving family. If certain guests simply won’t leave, you can be the one to kindly show them to the door.  

Also, if the surviving family members want to excuse themselves for a short while to compose themselves, allow them to do so. And stop anyone from suggesting otherwise. This is not the time to stand on ceremony; let those in mourning do what they need to in order to take care of themselves both physically and emotionally. 

Even more important, stick around after everyone has left and help clean up. Sometimes, those who are grieving like to do mundane tasks because it takes their mind off their loss. In any case, offer to help and don’t argue if you’re told that your help is really not needed. 

In the Days, Weeks and Months Following the Funeral

In the days following the funeral, you can support the grieving family by letting them know that you’re available as needed. If you think a phone call is too intrusive, send a text message or an email. Just let them know that you’re thinking of them and want to help in any way you can. 

If the survivor is a widow or widower and all alone, now is the time to step up and show how much you value your friendship. Once family members have left to go back to their own lives, loneliness can hit a survivor like a brick. 

Especially if a partner was lost, it’s important that you maintain the friendship you once had as two couples. This can help that person through grief. Invite the surviving partner to dinner on Saturday nights just as you had invited them as a couple before. Even if the surviving partner complains that he/she will be a “third wheel,” insist that you enjoy his/her company and wouldn’t have it any other way. 

If the survivor is elderly and depended on the now-deceased spouse for transportation, you can offer to run errands or take the person to doctor appointments, the grocery store and for other necessities. Often, survivors will not want to impose on family or friends. If that’s the case, do a “trade” with them. If a widow makes wonderful bread, ask for a homemade loaf in return. If a widower is handy around the house, ask him to help with a simple “fix-it” chore. 

On the other hand, if the survivor has young children, offer to babysit. Giving him or her a much-needed break will be greatly appreciated. 

What’s the best way to help someone through grief? Ask! Ask what you can do to help. Tell the family that you know they would do the same for you.  

And a great big hug never hurts. 

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