How to support a family member who is grieving

20 May 2021
springvale memorial wall flower

“We never lose our loved ones. They accompany us; they don’t disappear from our lives. We are merely in different rooms.”


Seeing someone you love in pain is challenging. As they grieve, they may not behave in the way we’re used to. They may experience a wide range of emotions, and we may struggle to know what to say or do to help. They may even try to push us away. But it is a time when they need support more than ever.

Each journey through grief is different; and the best support we can offer is to be present and have patience. Here are some ways to help you support your loved ones with gentle kindness and understanding.

Be patient

Your first instinct may be to rush in and give a grieving person all the attention, support and love you can muster. However, before they are receptive to help, they may first need some time alone to process their pain and begin their own journey through grief.

They may not be willing or able to accept help at that time and may ask you to give them some space. This is a completely normal response, and the best thing you can do is respect their wishes. Letting them know that you’ll be there for them when they’re ready might be all they need at this stage.

Offer practical help

Decision-making takes energy, and you have an opportunity to gently take some of that weight off their shoulders. Sometimes it’s best to take the initiative, especially if you know them well and understand how they like things done.

Instead of asking ‘what can I do for you?’, be specific. Say, ‘I’m going to the shops; I can get you some groceries and drop them to the door’ or ‘I’d like to walk your dog. Is 5pm a good time for you?’. A cooked dinner dropped at their doorstep; doing the washing; cleaning the car. Practical acts of help can demonstrate you care while giving them space to grieve.

Remember that grief can take time and they may not accept help straight away. Give them space and let them know your offer is there when they are ready.

Let them speak

Seeing someone you love cry, express anger, or retreat inwardly when confronted with grief can be challenging. But their feelings are their own, and they are entitled to move through their grief as they need.

If someone you care about who is grieving opens up about how they feel or how much they are struggling, let them talk. The best thing you can do is to listen.

It’s also worth remembering that this time may also be hard for you, especially if you’re also grieving the loss of the same friend or family member. While it is important to support the person closest to the one who has passed, if you also feel you need help, find someone who can support you by letting you speak and share what you are experiencing.

Being able to speak openly and honestly about what you are going through can be such a big help in moving forward with grief.

Tell them you love them

You might not be able to undo their loss, make them feel better, or ‘fix things’, no matter how much you may want to, but you can always tell your loved ones how you feel about them.

It might be a text, a message, a call, a card, a bunch of flowers, their favourite cake, or something as simple as a hug. Find ways to let them know that you care and that you love them.

Again, be patient

Grieving takes time.

It can be weeks, months, or even years before someone going through grief feels like they are themselves again. They may never truly come to terms with the loss. Be patient and accepting of their journey, whatever that looks like.

It’s important to remember that we don’t necessarily move on from grief. We don’t leave that chapter of our life behind or remove a person from our memories. They stay with us in our hearts and minds.

If you have a friend who is going through a time of grief, you might also find this article helpful in supporting them.

Whether it’s someone close who is grieving, or yourself, it’s important to also continue to look out for your own wellbeing and mental health. The resources below may be of help to you and your family in times of grief.

For additional support when grieving, please contact the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement (ACGB) for resources and guidance - 1800 642 066.

If you are feeling worried, low, or struggling to cope, please call Lifeline or Beyond Blue for immediate help and support.


Lifeline provides all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to online, phone, and face-to-face crisis support and suicide prevention services.

24 Hour Telephone Crisis Support – 13 11 14

Beyond Blue

No matter what you may be going through, Beyond Blue has information, strategies, and expert advice to help support you.

Call 1800 512 348 24 hours / 7 days a week

For additional support during COVID-19, Beyond blue have created this dedicated space:

Online forums 24 hours / 7 days a week

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