How to help someone with bereavement

Many of us find it difficult to know what to say or how we can help when we find out that someone we know has been bereaved.

Depending on how well we know the bereaved person and whether we knew the person who died, there are many things we can do to make a difference, even in just a small way.

The most important thing of all is not to pretend it hasn't happened or to ignore the bereaved person completely. To say that we are sorry to hear that someone has died acknowledges this important event whether we have the opportunity to say that in person or by sending a card or letter.

If we are in a position to help practically there are a number of possibilities such as shopping to make sure there is always enough tea, coffee, milk and sugar for the increased numbers of visitors to the home. Cooking dishes that can go in a freezer or bringing something around on a tray at a time when people often have a diminished appetite and reduced energy for food preparation can be a real help.

Being prepared to sit with a bereaved person in silence while they cry is a real gift and also to be able to listen to the same reminiscences repeated over and over again. Telling the story of what has happened, especially in the last days and hours of someone's life is an important part of beginning to accept that the person really has died.

There is a lot to do in the early days after a death. Offering lifts to the registrar, the funeral director, the cemetery and the bank can be very helpful.

Helping with housework or helping someone make sure they have something suitable to wear for the funeral (and taking it to the dry cleaners if necessary) may seem small and insignificant but will be remembered with great gratitude.

Our offers of help are more likely to be accepted if we can suggest practical things we could do rather than a 'let me know if there is anything I can do' which may be too vague for the bereaved person to be certain if the offer is genuine or not. Having an idea how you might be able to help shows that you are genuine and allows the bereaved person to ask you to help later if now is not the right moment.

It is also important never to be offended if someone says 'no thank you'. There may be other people involved who we are unaware of so that we are genuinely not needed or it may just not not the right moment. Reassuring someone that your offer of help stands if things change is important.