leaning on a friend's shoulder_expat nest tips for supporting a loved one through loss

Helping A Loved One Deal with Loss

Though loss is a natural part of life and something we will all face, it’s never easy. It can be extremely difficult to watch someone grieving, especially when we love them. Here are some insights about grief that will help you to be there for those you care about, while also taking care of yourself.


Many of us may feel helpless or out of our depth when confronted with a grieving loved one, whether their loss involves a terrible disappointment, a broken heart or the finality of death. A good starting point is to understand how grief works. 

Firstly, know that grieving is a normal part of the healing process. Through grieving we learn how to continue to function in spite of our losses. How well we manage this seems to affect both our quality of life and how we subsequently relate emotionally to others. 

The five stages of grieving are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. However, not everyone will go through these stages in the same order or experience all of them. Your loved one may bypass a stage or cycle back and forth between them. The grieving period may be longer or shorter: this is unique to the person, and often depends on what past losses emerge during the healing process.

Secondly, don’t feel that you need to be an “expert” (leave that to a professional counsellor) or that you need to solve the person’s grief (you can’t). Your loved one simply needs people who care. By gently carrying on with the usual day-to-day activities, you can also do a huge amount to support a grieving friend or family member. 


Pointers for supporting a loved one who is dealing with loss or grief

  • Be sure to normalize emotions and behaviour. Any response or reaction that a bereaved person has is normal and human. People can react quite differently, too – some may respond with sadness; for others, grief can turn to anger. Some may show no outward reaction at all or react with seemingly unreasonable hyperactivity and cheerfulness.
  • Return to the normal routine as soon as possible. This can offer comfort and stability to a bereaved person.
  • Should the bereaved share their thoughts or feelings with you, be understanding without trying to give advice. What is important is that the person feels they are in a safe environment and have someone to talk to.
  • In the first week(s) after a loss, simply be there for the person. Some people will be in shock and won’t feel ready to talk in depth about their loss or grief; others may feel they need to talk thoroughly when they are in shock. 
  • Bear in mind that reactions to trauma like loss can be prolonged and may continue to interfere with work or school performance and attention.
  • If you are concerned that others (for example, in your family) are being affected, it is vital to turn to professional help. 


The importance of looking after yourself

Supporting someone who is experiencing loss can be emotionally draining, and it is easy to let the carer in us take over. We feel empathy for the person and their pain, and their loss may remind us of our own vulnerability and immortality.

You might find that you need extra support while helping another person deal with loss. This is not a sign of weakness; rather it is an acknowledgement of how demanding the role of carer can be. You need to be strong in yourself to be strong for others.

The golden rule: put on your own oxygen mask first! During flight safety demonstrations, we are always instructed to fit our own oxygen masks before helping children or others. The principle is that we need to take care of ourselves in order to be able to help those around us. 


How to look after yourself, too

  • Realize that it is perfectly normal and understandable to be emotionally affected to some extent. However, it is just as important to recognize that you need to feel reasonably strong if you are to help others.
  • Share your feelings and talk to your own support system. 
  • Remember that we all have our limits. Gently re-establish your boundaries if necessary.
  • Spoil yourself; be kind to yourself. Make time to do something just for you. You deserve it!


Have you ever supported someone experiencing a loss? What helped the person, and what helped you? It’s always great to hear from you – just leave a comment below. 

Photo: Külli Kittus/Unsplash