How to Help when Someone Dies

Three Methods:Opening up CommunicationPerforming Practical TasksOffering Emotional Support

Each year there are over 2.5 million deaths in the United States, leaving an estimated 12.5 million people in various states of mourning.[1] It is common to say, "If there is anything at all I can do to help," in a situation when speaking with someone who has lost a family member. However, if you really wish to offer assistance there are often more practical ways of helping in the short and long term.

Method 1
Opening up Communication

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    Offer your condolences. Make contact with the bereaved person as soon as you find out about the death. It may sound trite, but saying “I’m so sorry” or “I’m here for you,” is useful as it validates their feelings and provides a support system. If you don’t know them personally, introduce yourself and let them know how you heard about their loss.[2]
    • Keep this initial conversation brief, especially if it occurs shortly after the death. They are most likely swamped with calls and this can very easily overwhelm the most social of persons. Also, if they are ‘short’ with you, don’t take it personally.
    • Use caution when offering words of optimism. People in mourning are often not ready to hear about moving on. Instead of offering advice, focus on the gravity of the loss by saying, “This must be a most painful time for you.”[3]
  2. 2
    Decide what assistance you can offer and when. Much of this will depend on your schedule. If you constantly have really busy days, and you still want to help, then find at least one or two hours that you can spare in your week, and use that time
  3. 3
    State your offer in specific terms. Instead of saying, “Is there anything I can do to help?” think about what you are good at and offer to assist with that activity. For example, if you excel at cooking, consider making and freezing a few casseroles.[4]
  4. 4
    Find a time when they are alone. Approach them when they have time to talk and are in a space that is comfortable for them. People are often sensitive about receiving help or gifts, even in times of grief, and this will increase the odds that you receive a positive response.
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    Phrase your offer positively. Framing the conversation this way makes them feel like less of a burden. End your sentences with a questioning tone to open up conversation and give-and-take.
    • Say, for instance,"For the next three months I can pick up your children once a week after school, take them bowling, and drop them home, if you would like?" Or, "Can I come around one night next week and bring you dinner?"[5]
  6. 6
    Repeat your offer. Give the person a chance to refuse, but don't be afraid to make the offer again in a week or so. It can be a difficult time. Don't be pushy, but make it clear your offer is genuine.
  7. 7
    Get other people involved. Let others know what you are doing and if there is any way for them to help as well. Make a few phone calls to other acquaintances or send out an email to solicit ideas and arrange scheduling. Larger tasks often require a group effort and this can also increase the range of help that you can initially offer.

Method 2
Performing Practical Tasks

  1. 1
    Sit down with the bereaved person and make a to-do list. Deaths create personal and practical chaos and you can help by providing some sense of order and forward direction. Pull out a pen and paper and write a list of everything that needs to be done from the minutia (such as sorting through the mail) to the complex (such as looking into the existence of probate documents or the lack thereof).[6]
    • Thinking about the thematic grouping of activities may help as you compose the list. For example, if you focus on money then you will include closing out all bank accounts, arranging for the payment of funeral contractors, and paying any outstanding bills.
  2. 2
    Co-organize the funeral services. If you are skilled at writing, offer to compose and arrange for the publication of the death announcement. Get a phone list from the bereaved person and make calls to spread the word about the service date and time. Arrange for transportation to and from the service, including serving as a driver, if needed.
    • Continue helping after the services conclude by collecting and donating any flowers. (Hospitals often welcome floral donations). Or, by writing thank you notes for any gifts received.
  3. 3
    Act as an intermediary with officials. Offer to sit-in on the meetings with a funeral director or go to meet with insurance agents. Your role is to provide support to the mourning person, so if you say less than more, that is okay.
    • If asked for your opinion, it is perfectly okay to turn the question back around and say, “Is that what you want?” Or, “How do you feel about this?”
    • Ensure that the proper paperwork is filed. Get the death certificate and look over it to make sure that it is filled out correctly.
  4. 4
    Make meals. Prepare food that is frozen and easy to defrost or that comes ready-made. Lasagna and other noodle-based casseroles are a good idea as they are calorically dense and retain flavor when frozen. Try to be consistent and provide a set number of meals on a schedule.
    • Cook their favorite foods, such as macaroni and cheese, in order to provide additional temptation. Loss of appetite is a common side-effect of mourning, therefore, it is helpful to have many food options available.[7]
  5. 5
    Clean and organize the house. Washing the dishes and sweeping may be the last thing on a person’s mind following a death in the family. Offer to do these chores in a concrete way, “I can come by twice a week to do the dusting.” You can also organize any items laying around, such as loose papers.
    • Watch what you throw away and ask before taking out the trash. That random crumpled list on the couch could have been the last thing written by their loved one and, therefore, worth keeping to them even if it appears worthless to you.[8]
  6. 6
    Provide childcare. A child's need for attention and care does not cease due to a death. If the bereaved has children, offer to babysit for one evening a week. Take the kids out for dinner and a movie or to the local arcade. Keep the conversation light and positive, look at this as an opportunity for you to have fun as well.
  7. 7
    Launch a fundraising drive. Create a website listing asking for funding or spread the word in person. Detail the circumstances, in a tactful way, surrounding the death and describe the reason for the financial need. These funds, for example, could be used to pay for funeral expenses or to support the children of the deceased person. The average funeral costs over $7,000.[9]
    • The amount of money that you raise is not necessarily the most important thing. The effort that you go through to set-up and monitor these funds shows that you care. Make sure to carefully keep track of all raised monies.
    • The funds could also be used to help others, such as a memorial scholarship fund.[10]

Method 3
Offering Emotional Support

  1. 1
    Call frequently. Set a calling schedule, whether it be phoning twice a week or more. Mark down a specific day and time to make these calls. For example, call them Tuesdays and Thursday at 7:30 p.m. This will ensure that you make the time and they will also most likely look forward to speaking with you.
    • Make a point to reach out as particular dates occur, such as the birthday of the deceased person. Events such as graduations or weddings may also result in additional mourning and will require support on your part.[11]
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    Encourage them to use the name of the deceased. Set an example by saying, “Michael really liked going to the movies,” as opposed to, “You must really miss going to the movies.” This acknowledges that the deceased person is still a part of their emotional life and should not be forgotten.[12]
  3. 3
    Stay the night. If the person lost a spouse, or someone they lived with, the nights may be particularly difficult and lonely. Offer to sleep over once or twice a week when you can or lounge on the couch and watch a movie with them until night falls.[13]
  4. 4
    Organize an event of remembrance. Plan a tree planting, candle lighting, or even an ash-scattering ceremony. Provide a safe and positive space for the bereaved person to remember their loved one. These events do not cost a great deal of money and can be organized with a few days’ notice.[14]
  5. 5
    Attend a bereavement group. Many of these groups are organized via hospitals or hospice organizations, although you can also find them online. They are often organized according to a “peer” system i.e. the same age brackets, type of death, etc. Find a suitable group and offer to attend the sessions as a companion for the bereaved person.[15]
    • Support groups also provide a great opportunity for information regarding the stages of the grieving process, thus decreasing feelings of isolation.


  • Never be afraid to talk to someone about someone close to them who has died. Keep it simple, and don't dwell on sympathetic statements. Don't ever lose touch just because you don't know what to say.
  • If you don't have the ability to help, you can still offer condolences without offering assistance.


  • Don't try and set up arrangements of a permanent nature. These can become difficult over time for both the giver and the recipient. Limit your offer to a period of time, or a specific activity. You can always extend arrangements if they are working well for everyone.
  • If you notice that your friend acts listless in the long term, they may be suffering from a type of depression.[16]

Article Info

Categories: Death Funerals and Bereavement