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Communicating With Bereaved People

The do’s and don’ts of communicating with bereaved people

Building on the previous post, here are our ‘top tips’ for communicating with bereaved people.

DO’S

  • DO show that you know what has happened: say how sorry you are, by letter or phone or as soon as you next see them. Sometimes a handshake or a touch on the arm is enough
  • DO ask the family whether you may attend the funeral if you knew the person who has died
  • DO let the person talk about their loss and express grief, as much or as often as they want. Going over and over what happened is a normal part of bereavement
  • DO however accept that they may not want to discuss their loss or grief
  • DO be patient and understanding, and encourage them to be patient and understanding with themselves
  • DO encourage them to take care of themselves – to eat and rest properly and to see their doctor if necessary. Do the same for yourself if you are close to the bereaved person
  • DO as the days/weeks go by… ask how they are feeling, or how they are coping
  • DO remember that grieving may include feelings of shock, guilt or anger
  • DO try to be yourself, nobody expects you to be an expert on grief
  • Do recognise your own feelings about grief and loss and how this may affect your responses

DON’TS

  • DON’T avoid the bereaved person. Don’t put your head down, walk away or busy yourself doing something else
  • DON’T change the subject when bereaved people talk about their loss
  • DON’T take their anger and distress personally
  • DON’T say “I know how you feel” even if you have experienced a similar loss. Others will not feel exactly as you felt
  • DON’T try to soothe away the pain by saying “it was a merciful release”; “Time will heal” or “Try to think about something else”. However well meant, such remarks seldom help when grief is at its most intense. Everyone grieves in their own way and there is no timescale for grief
  • DON’T give advice unless it is asked for. When giving information, keep it clear and simple. Recently bereaved people may not be able to retain complex information
  • DON’T make offers of help you cannot keep
  • DON’T make assumptions about someone’s religious or cultural beliefs
  • DON’T assume that bereaved people should have ‘got over’ the loss by a certain time. Grieving nearly always takes longer than we think.
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