Tips for Helping A Grieving Family Member, Friend, Co-Worker or Employee

by Richard Ballo

If someone you know has experienced a loss, it will have an effect on all who come into contact with that person. If you are one of those people, you may feel uncomfortable or perhaps uncertain. “What should I say?” is a common question. Some people who come into contact with a person who is grieving experiences feelings of helplessness. You are not alone. What matters most is not what you say, but the fact that you care. Below are general tips to for interacting with a grieving family member or friend or a grieving co-worker or employee.

General Tips for Helping A Grieving Family Member or Friend

  • There is no ‘correct’ amount of time to mourn a loss. The grieving period varies with the individual.
  • Be sensitive to significant dates such as birthdays, holidays and the anniversary of the death or loss; the grieving person may find these especially difficult times.
  • Allow the person to talk about his grief and express his feelings. Listen without offering advice or interrupting.
  • Be patient with the grieving person’s changeable moods. It’s normal for someone who is grieving to alternate between anger, sadness, numbness and acceptance.
  • Give the person as much time as he needs to grieve. Telling him to ‘get over it’ or ‘let it go’ won’t help him grieve any faster.
  • Ask the bereaved what you can do to help. Try not to get frustrated if he doesn’t know what he needs.
  • Offer suggestions of what you could do to help. For example, does the grieving person need more space? Does he want you to be around more? Are there tasks or errands he needs done?
  • Show affection such as hugs or handholding if the bereaved seems receptive. If he seems uninterested in affection, try not to get irritated – this will pass with time.
  • Encourage the grieving person to join a grief support group. He can call his doctor for a referral or look in the community service section of the yellow pages for grief support services.
  • Urge the grieving person to get professional help if he’s so depressed that he’s unable to function day to day. Assist him in setting up an appointment with a doctor to discuss counseling or possible medication.

General Tips for Helping A Grieving Co-Worker or Employee

  • Consider alternative workplace solutions such as co-workers donating leave or offering shared leave for someone with a very ill family member.
  • Understand that your co-worker or employee is likely to be distracted or preoccupied and may need to make more personal calls or take longer breaks.
  • Be flexible and give employees “permission” to take care of themselves. “I know you are going through a difficult time. If you need to leave the office for a while today or you want to work from home, let me know so that I can make the necessary arrangements.”
  • Ask if your co-worker wants to discuss the subject. If not, be sympathetic while allowing the person to concentrate on his or her job. Ask human resources managers for information or referrals to counselors or other resources. If your company offers Employee Assistance Programs, let your co-worker or employee know that this service is available.

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