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How to care for a grieving person

10 July 2024 By Brianna Hatchett

How good are we at forgiving, rebuking, empathizing and the like? Let’s reflect together in this series.


C.S. Lewis, the British writer and theologian, lost his wife Joy to cancer in 1960. In response to this loss he wrote A Grief Observed, where he writes that grief “feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”

This resonates with me. The feeling of being concussed (also described as a fogginess or cloudiness) makes it difficult to communicate with and relate to the world.

I’ve worked as a therapist with people navigating grief, and most of them relate with the disorienting feeling. Not everyone shares Lewis’ desire to have people around, but the conflicted feelings he describes are common – wanting to engage with others but finding it difficult. It’s confusing, especially when many of us in grief also struggle to identify what we need and ask for help.

Understanding all this can make it seem difficult to care for people in grief, but there are some simple things we can do that are effective.

Show care in practical ways.

Since the grieving person may not know what they need or how to ask for it, try to identify what may be helpful for them and offer specific support. If you notice their grass needs mowing, offer to mow it. If they mention they haven’t been cooking, cook a meal for them. If they are struggling emotionally, offer to listen to what they are processing.

You can’t fix or solve grief, so show your concern in practical ways – and don’t expect the individual to be the one to ask for help.

Show up consistently.

Meaningful relationships are usually ones where others have shown up for us on multiple occasions. When some one’s world is shifting because of grief, being a stable, consistent presence speaks volumes. We need to continue to show up for them.

So, whatever the nature of your relationship is, don’t try to change it up. If you’re a friend, keep being that friend. If you’re not very close, don’t try to become closer now because they’ve lost someone.

Continue being present for this person in the ways you have in the past. Continue the usual phone calls, coffees or dinners. Continue to invite them to regular events.

The one thing to change is expectations. Don’t expect a response. Don’t expect them to accept the invitation. Just show up as consistently as usual, even in their season of grief, without expecting something in return.

Acknowledge their loss.

Whether it has been a day, a month, many months or years, it’s best to ask someone how they are and where they’re at rather than assuming things are better because time has passed.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, experts on grief, write, “You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.”

I’ve encountered many people on the grief journey who just want someone to ask how they’re doing and accept the answer. I’ve also encountered many people who are afraid to ask.

A way to show care is to ask, and to accept whatever information you receive. You may not know what to say, but that’s okay. Ask questions if they’re in a space to answer, or simply send a message that you’re thinking of them.

Grief is a complex journey, which means caring for someone who is grieving can also be complex. Keep in mind these three considerations – show care in practical ways, show up consistently and acknowledge their loss as you try to care for them.

Brianna Matchett, MC is a counselling therapist at Garden Counselling and works with clients across Canada and in-person in Calgary (

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