Already have an account?
Get back to the

How to Comfort Someone Who’s Grieving or Sick: Experts Share Best Ways to Show Support

Instead of offering platitudes, try these actionable steps from grief counselors and friendship experts

When our loved ones go through hard times, it can be challenging to know the best way to show up for them. Everyone copes with life’s difficulties in different ways, and it’s important to honor that, and find the right balance of offering support while also giving them the space they need to heal.

Whether your friend or family member is reeling from the loss of a loved one or they’re going through an emotional crisis, you can practice heartfelt ways to be there for the people you love when they need you the most. Here, experts recommend meaningful ways to show support during these challenging times.

How to comfort someone who’s grieving

Open your heart

The first thing to know when a friend or loved one is grieving is that it’s okay for you to be scared and not know how to approach them. “We sometimes avoid them, because we don’t know what to say,” says Catherine Hodge, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and author of What Do I Say? How to Support Others in Grief, adding that this fear is understandable, and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if it’s our first reaction. “Let go of the idea that you’re going to be able to fix this for them.” Once you do, you’ll be able to support them.

Related: Experts Share How To Forgive Someone and Give *Yourself* the Gift of Healing

“Grieving is a process and when we acknowledge their pain instead of trying to make it better, they feel supported by a community,” Hodge adds. Let them talk without interrupting with our own story of loss. “It doesn’t help when we talk about what we’ve experienced, because it shifts the attention away from them.” Instead, just stay in their story and listen.

Offer a ‘menu’

“Though they come from a good place and are well-intentioned, platitudes like, ‘He’s in a better place,’ or ‘Time heals all wounds,’ can feel invalidating or even insulting,” says Hodge. Instead, consider offering practical help by giving them a “menu” of options: “I’m picking up my son at the same school your daughter goes to; would it be helpful if I picked them both up?” Or “I made extra lasagna; would it be helpful I brought some over to your house?” In the moment, people often don’t know what they need, which is why offering different options can be so helpful.

Related: How to Stop Worrying About Things You Can’t Control: Experts Share Their 6 Best Tricks

Two women comforting one another at table for how to comfort someone who's grieving

How to comfort someone who’s sick

Keep on showing up

“Perhaps the greatest gift you can give an ill friend or loved one is the gift of your presence,” says Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD, grief counselor and author of Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart. “If you live nearby, visit them at the hospital or at home — not just once, but throughout the course of the illness. Queue up a movie and bring popcorn, play cards or Monopoly, sit with her and watch the snow fall. Your simple presence will say to her, ‘I am willing to walk this difficult road with you and face with you whatever comes.’”

Related: How to Get Along With Your Adult Children: 6 Expert Tips That Will Boost Your Bond

Unable to visit? The power of writing a note or picking up the phone can’t be underestimated, Dr. Wolfelt says. “Tell them how much they mean to you or reminisce about some of the fun times you’ve shared.”

Learn about their illness

“People can cope with what they know, but they can’t cope with what they don’t know,” says Dr. Wolfelt. “You’ll be better equipped to help your friend or loved one if you take it upon yourself to learn about their illness,” he advises, adding that you might consider visiting your local library and consulting medical reference books, or visiting the websites of the National Cancer Institute or the American Heart Association. “If you educate yourself about the illness and its treatments, you will be a more understanding listener when your friend or loved one wants to talk.”

Woman visiting older woman in hospital for how to comfort someone who's sick

How to comfort someone who’s struggling

Do one loving thing

What do people who are going through a tough time in their personal lives, like a divorce, say they want from friends and loved ones? “The most common answer I hear is that they just want us to keep inviting them into our lives,” says Amy Weatherly, friendship expert and coauthor of Here For It (the Good, the Bad, and the Queso): The How-To Guide for Deepening Your Friendships and Doing Life Together.

Related: How to Be a Better Friend + Make New Ones: Experts Share 6 Ways to Boost Your Bonds

“They need to know they’re still seen and wanted, especially when they’re feeling rejected, like after a relationship falling apart or during a life transition like being laid off,” says Weatherly. She encourages simply asking them, “What would feel like the most loving thing I can for you right now?” “They might not always have an answer, but just keep showing up the best you can.”

Connect effortlessly

When we’re going through emotional struggles, we often retreat into ourselves, notes Weatherly, revealing that she has a friend who’s prone to depression. “She doesn’t always answer texts or emails because it can feel overwhelming, so I’ll text her, ‘Hey, I want you to know I love you and you don’t need to respond to this.’”

Simply acknowledging that you have no expectations of them is worth its weight in gold, says Weatherly. “I always say friendships need to be reciprocal; everyone at the friendship ‘table’ needs to eat, but there are certain times when you have to feed them.”

Woman comforting her sad friend for how to comfort someone who's struggling
Use left and right arrow keys to navigate between menu items. Use right arrow key to move into submenus. Use escape to exit the menu. Use up and down arrow keys to explore. Use left arrow key to move back to the parent list.