What To Do For a Grieving Friend

What To Do For a Grieving Friend


send a friend something squishy and cute like a stuffed animal when they're grieving

An article on helping grieving friends showed up in my Twitter feed recently. It’s good, go read it. It was also a reminder that I had wanted to do one of my own. Death is an experience we will all deal with at some point in time, if not others then certainly our own. Yet, no on likes talking about it. There was a lot of help offered to me when I was dealing with the loss of my dad last summer, yet I didn’t actually know what I needed. Or what I would need. So here are some suggestions based on my particular experience of what to do for a grieving friend.

Just Think of Something Useful And Do It

Generally, don’t ask what you can do; just think of something useful and do it. For some reason, we have been taught to always ask permission before doing something nice for someone. Surprises are often thought of negatively. Or we’re afraid that the person won’t be home to accept a delivery, or will be to stressed out to care. Maybe the person is traveling and you don’t know where to send a care package, flowers, or food.

This is when it’s important to remember that your gesture isn’t really about the gift at all; it’s about the love and support behind it.

My dad’s health turned very suddenly last August a day after he was put into hospice care. It is impossible to know how the endings of lives will go. Some of our loved ones hang on, wanting to spend as much time with us as possible. Others get their fill and let go. My friend had gone through a long drawn out ending process with a grandparent and knew how stressful living at a hospice center with someone dying could be. Even though she did not know how long I was going to be there, she immediately sent out a care package to the center. On her own, she looked up the name of the center (as there was only one in the city) and sent the package, without ever asking me anything at all.

Unfortunately/fortunately for everyone, my dad let go soon after I was able to see him. I was out of the center by the next morning and back in the hotel room. No one could predict this. While laying on the hospital bed trying to wrap my head around what just happened, I received an email. It was from this friend and the subject was “A care package if you want it”. She openly & honestly stated that she had sent me a care package directly to the hospice center but if it was too difficult for me to go pick up (emotionally, logistically, or otherwise), that that was okay. She explained honestly that her feelings would not be hurt and it was filled with items that anyone dealing with a sick relative could use. I was extremely grateful for the care package and for her honesty so I hadn’t felt obligated to pick it up. She was honest in her sentiment that it wasn’t about the gift but the love behind it.

Don’t worry about “where should I send something?”, just send something. Anything. Although the care package was wonderful and extremely helpful, the cards I received meant just as much. Knowing that a friend took the time to think of me, despite not really knowing what to do, just sending a card saying “I’m here” meant the world. Losing my dad made me feel very alone. This was something that was only happening to me. Knowing that others were there for me and understood really helped.

What Can I Do? I Don’t Know.

To this day, I am grateful for all of the support and people who reached out to me. I received so many “let me know if there is anything I can do” offers. The trouble is, I honestly didn’t know what I would need help with. It was such a new situation. And every loss is different. Depending on the person, the circumstances.

One thing that didn’t occur to me was just how much my brain would stop working afterward. The term “mommy brain” is coined but there really needs to be a “grieving brain” (which is probably just “depressed brain” now that I think about it). When I got back home from traveling at the end of August, I couldn’t believe that the world had continued going on this whole time. I didn’t know how I was supposed to function. It didn’t make sense that I was still expected to do things. Sure, I was given proper time off work. But things like bills still needed to be paid.

I forgot to pay my September rent.

I just, completely forgot. I never sent my rent check. I have been so on-top of my bills and finances for the past few years. This was so unlike me. Yet. My brain wasn’t working. I didn’t know to expect this. All those offers to help and I needed it, I just didn’t know what for. Next time this happens, because unfortunately there will be a next time, I am going to give my bank account information to someone I really trust and just tell them to take care of my bills for a month. But I didn’t know that at the time.

Offering specific services will be appreciated even if someone doesn’t take you up on them. Offering to help tidy their apartment or watch their pets can be helpful. Even if the friend isn’t traveling, there may be a lot of running around involved. Not having to worry about walking the dog or organizing mail is one less stressor for your friend.

What To Put in a Care Package?

Show your support and love for your friend by putting together a care package for them. There are a variety of items you can add. Be specific to your friend if you know their interests. But if you’re afraid of triggering their recent memories, there are some generic things they will also appreciate.


Granola bars or any other easy to eat, healthy, non-perishable, foods. When you’re grieving, eating is the last thing you want to do. But you have to. Sitting down to a meal may feel terrible. And even heating up anything may feel terrible. But having something to eat quickly while feeling sad is perfect.

Something cozy

This can be a functional pillow or a cute pillow like a squishable. It can also be a stuffed animal. Or a blanket. Also slippers or fun socks. Just something warm and of comfort. Being in a hospital, center, hotel room, or relative’s house can feel especially hard not being at home. Having something to hold on to and keep warm, really provides comfort.


This can be a video game, book, maybe an itunes giftcard, or a usb drive with curated tv episodes or movies. Something to help your friend be distracted from time to time. A book of short stories or maybe a trilogy. Some magazines even.

Because we never know when tragedy or sickness will happen, please write out an emergency contact sheet. This is a spreadsheet with contact information and important personal information that you save on your computer, print out to put in your document box, and send to friends and family. Hopefully they will never have to use it.


6 Replies to “What To Do For a Grieving Friend”

  1. Saw you tweet last night that you were writing this but was out and about and couldn’t chime in. I think you’re spot on with all of this (and COMPLETELY AGREE about ‘grieving brain’ – I was a forgetful mess the entire time my dad was in the hospital/eventually hospice and for several months after he passed).

    The only other thing I might add is NOT to try to empathize unless you’ve experienced a similar loss. I had so many people try to give advice or tell me they “knew how it felt” based on some other not-all-that-relevant experience in their life, and it mostly just made me more upset or annoyed. I understand the impulse to want to connect and reach out, but really, I just wanted people to either let me cry and vent or whatever, or just talk about something else entirely because I needed to think about something else.

    1. That is a good addition! As friends we want to fix things, and make our grieving friends feel better. But this is one situation where we can’t. It’s more helpful to just accept that we can’t “make things better” and instead try to make things at least a little less worse.

  2. Great post! It’s so hard to know how to help someone else through such a tough time. I know when my grandma was so sick, my best friend who lived nearby was around a lot and did a great job offering to get me out of the house and dealing with the fact that I was pretty lethargic and useless while I was with her. A few months later she told me she felt helpless and like she wasn’t being useful at all, but I thought she was one of the most important people keeping me sane back then.

    I also think it’s more important to try to help or say something than to be so scared of saying the wrong thing you do nothing. That kind of isolation feels much worse than someone just saying the wrong thing and upsetting you for a moment… in my opinion, anyway.

    1. I agree with your second part, not to worry too much about doing the wrong thing and just do something. When people first started offering to help, my initial thought was, “What really can you do, my dad’s still dead” because I was angry and upset at the world. So even trying to do the right thing may not get you the response you want and you just can’t take that personally. Doing anything is definitely better than nothing – something I still struggle with – and not to always expect a huge thank you right away, especially during the time of a crisis.

  3. Great post. This makes me want to be more mindful of what’s going on in my friends’ lives. For example, if a tragedy strikes and I know my friend had a deadline to get a job application in, or needed to take their car in for service, those things could suddenly become overwhelming – or, like your rent, forgotten! So paying attention enough to know what help is needed, would be key! I also find that people are very, very reluctant to ask for help when they believe it would be inconvenient, like taking you to the airport at 4 a.m. But I would be happy to do something like that!

  4. When I was in NJ supporting my grandmother and the rest of my family while my grandfather was under hospice care and after he died, my boyfriend and one other friend came out to NJ (at different times) to take me to dinner and hang out and give me a bit of a break from the intense emotional situation. That friend also offered to get a car2go the day after the funeral and come pick me up and drive me home to Brooklyn. I was really ready to get back to a sense of normalcy by then but didn’t want to deal with the train and no one could drive me home until the next day. I was very grateful for that fairly out of the blue offer.

    I also really appreciated that my boyfriend and some friends came to the wake or funeral. It was nice to have people there who were there to support just me and they provided a welcome break from the small talk with the hundreds of people I haven’t seen in years or only vaguely remembered. Obviously being there in person for arrangements isn’t always possible–my family lives especially close– but if you can manage it, I highly recommend trying.

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