How to behave around the bereaved

Julia Faulks / 16 October 2015

Many people don't know how to behave around the recently bereaved, but there are some simple things to bear in mind to make this difficult time easier to manage.



Many of us find it hard to know what to say or how to act when someone goes through a bereavement. Here we take you through some of the ways you can offer your support and gain a better understanding of the grieving process. Because we all cope with loss in different ways, what works for one person may not necessarily work for another. You may assume that someone will react in a certain way, when in fact they do the exact opposite.

There may be times where someone wants to talk about their loss, yet on other days this can feel almost impossible. Unfortunately there aren’t any magic words you can say to make a person feel better, it’s just about being compassionate and real.

It’s also important not to assume that someone should be feeling a certain way and this is because grief comes in many stages. “Guilt is one of the most common and difficult symptoms of grief – we beat ourselves up because we may not be reacting the way we think we should be reacting. Sometimes people can even feel euphoric, but this is nature helping us cope with the aftermath of a death when we feel completely numb – it is purely a psychological emotion,” says Jill Templeman, Marie Curie Social Worker.

Offering your sympathy

Getting the balance right when it comes to how much sympathy we offer someone can be difficult. Ultimately, it’s about being in tune with that person and being open about the fact that you may not know how they are feeling, but you are there for them if and when they need you.

People don’t generally want to be pitied or defined as the person who is in mourning, but at the same time it’s better that you acknowledge a death rather than avoid talking about it.

“If a person cries, the natural thing can be to touch them and say ‘there, there’, but what you’re doing is actually making yourself feel more comfortable. The best thing to do is to let them cry and be there for them. Grief is a very natural process – you form bonds and attachments with people and when this is broken it can be one of the most traumatic experiences that you will ever go through,” says Jill.

Read our tips for writing a meaningful sympathy message.

Allowing someone to remember

One of the most comforting things you can do is to let someone know that you haven’t forgotten the person they are grieving for. It could be something as simple as asking when the anniversary is and this can then open up an opportunity for them to share their memories with you.

“It can be almost like the person never existed because no one wants to talk about them for fear of upsetting the person who is bereaved. There will be some people who will want to avoid talking about their loved one because they find it distressing; however, there are lots of people who would love nothing more than the chance to talk about them with you,” says Jo Ruff, Head of Family Support at Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

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