Mind & Body

The best things you can do to help someone who’s grieving

It can be difficult to know what to say to someone who’s experiencing a significant loss of a loved one. Hosts of the grief podcast Good Mourning chat with Body+Soul about how you can do your best to support them. 

The opening scene of Dead to Me, season one, is rather darkly funny. Jen (Christina Applegate) stares at the casserole her neighbour Karen has just handed her, explaining how to reheat her “take on Mexican lasagne”.

While Jen seems a little disgusted by the questionable meal, hosts of the grief podcast Good Mourning note that Karen’s act is one of the best things you can do for someone who’s experienced a significant loss. You can offer to take their dog for a walk, or clean their house, or do their grocery shopping.

“What people may not realise is that those first few weeks of losing someone are incredibly busy, you’ve got so much admin,” says Sally Douglas.

Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this.

“The month I lost my mum, I’ve never been busier in my life… So, having someone that could make you dinner or just help with those little things really helps.”

Douglas and her co-host Imogen Carn have both experienced the sudden death of someone important to them.

In 2019, Douglas lost her mum to a sudden seizure while on the other side of the world. Carn, on the other hand, lost her mother to suicide in February last year, completely unexpectedly.

Discovering there were few resources for that “in-between” age to lose someone–Douglas and Carn are in their mid-30s–they started a podcast to explore grief and mourning, and the way we talk about loss, and the reception from listeners has been incredibly helpful, not just for those experiencing loss, but those who are supporting someone who is grieving.

‘No need to reply’

When someone close to you dies, chances are people you know will reach out to you with words of condolences.

But Douglas says that can be really overwhelming, even though you know they mean well.

“That’s really lovely, but it can also be really overwhelming; that pressure of feeling like you need to reply to all these messages,” she says.

“So, something really simple, like saying, “no need to reply” when you’re sending your condolences or messages of support. That actually is quite helpful.”

Don’t stop talking about the person who’s gone

It can be difficult for someone who hasn’t experienced significant loss to know what they should and shouldn’t say; you might be afraid to bring up the person who’s gone, but in fact it’s the opposite of what someone grieving wants.

“People supporting [someone who’s grieving] have this idea and expectation where they don’t want to talk about the loved one in case you upset the person,” says Douglas.

“For everyone we’ve spoken to it’s the complete opposite. They want to keep hearing their name, they want people to talk about it and keep them alive.”

Just show up

Both Douglas and Carn say that just showing up and being consistent in your support is vital. If you say you’re going to be there, be there.

“It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but I think just letting that person know you’re there. And not flaking on someone,” says Douglas.

Shift your language

It’s natural to ask a friend who’s grieving how they are, but Carn says there can be better ways of talking to someone.

“People would ask ‘how are you?’ and we’re obviously not OK,” she says.

“It’s really hard when people ask you that because you lie and say, ‘I’m fine’ and you don’t open up. It’s more sincere if you change it slightly to “how are you doing today?’”

Good Mourning podcast is available on Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

For 24-hour support call Lifeline on 13 11 14.