64 Ways to “Meet Grieving People Where They’re At”
General : Eleanor Haley/
“Meet them where they’re at” is a common (and sound) suggestion for how to support a grieving friend or family member. Apologies if you don’t like sentences that end in prepositions, it’s just what we’re doing today. It’s a suggestion I often want to offer but don’t because I’m not sure what it actually means to other people. In this context, where we’re not just talking about physically meeting someone but also emotionally meeting them, it’s abstract.
So the other day, I decided to ask our communities on Instagram and Facebook what this phrase means to them in the context of their grief. How has it played out for them, or how do they wish it would have been? We got many great responses, which I want to share with you here.
First, however, it’s important to note that there can be many different interpretations when talking about something abstract. And we’ve found time and again that the idea of “good grief support” is subjective. What helps or comforts one person, another may find off-putting and undesirable.
So if you’re supporting someone else, take what you read here with a grain of salt and, above all else, consider what you know about your loved one and your relationship with them. And if you’re grieving yourself, please feel free to share your interpretation of the phrase in the comment section below.
What does it mean to meet someone where they’re at in grief?
- Let go of expectations.
- Just allow them to be who they are and where they are, and to feel what they feel.
- If the grieving person seems lost – be lost with them – only they can truly find their path.
- Don’t make the grieving person come to you.
- Don’t expect them want to raise their spirits or rush through their grief.
- Don’t minimize their thoughts or feelings.
- Don’t minimize how they feel about the magnitude of the loss.
- Know that what a person thinks and feels in grief isn’t always rational – and that’s okay.
- Allow the person’s grief to exist without trying to change it.
- Just listen.
- Really actually listen.
- Don’t feel the need to come up with something comforting, helpful, or inspiring to say.
- Don’t search for silver linings.
- Be comfortable with silence when there isn’t anything to say.
- Try not to compare the person’s grief or loss experience to yours or anyone else’s.
- Try not to imagine how you would think, feel, or act if you were them. In reality, you have no idea how you would think, feel, or act – even if you’ve experienced loss yourself.
- Follow the grieving person’s cues.
- Allow the person’s grief to exist without trying to change it.
- Don’t try and fix things.
- Don’t feel the need to offer solutions.
- Don’t try and force the person into new feelings or perspectives.
- Just show up and be present.
- Be willing to allow the pain to exist.
- Be willing to sit with the pain.
- Put your own awkwardness or discomfort aside.
- Recognize if your own discomfort with a person’s thought, emotion, or experience is guiding the support you’re providing.
- Don’t judge or shame emotion – whatever it may be.
- Be there for someone the way they need you to be, even if it’s not the way you want to be.
- Validate that it’s okay to feel the way the person is feeling.
- Respect the person’s pace.
- Check-in often – especially on difficult days.
- Understand that the person may experience grief flare-ups months and years later.
- Be as supportive on day 365 or 500 as you were on day 1.
- Don’t force the person to talk about “it” if they don’t want to.
- Don’t discourage a person who wants to talk about their experiences from doing so.
- Don’t try and rush the person away from what they’re thinking or feeling.
- Match the person’s mood and tone.
- Don’t put the grieving person in the position of having to support you or make you more comfortable.
- Be mindful how much you talk or complain about day-to-day stressors and minutia when your grieving friend clearly isn’t in the headspace to hear about it.
- That said, don’t assume they don’t want to know about you or your life. Just be tactful, and if you’re not sure if they want to hear about something – ask.
- Don’t expect a response when reaching out to offer help and don’t be offended if you don’t get one.
- Don’t make the grieving person feel guilty for opting out of things and focussing their energy on their grief.
- Don’t project your own beliefs or expectations onto the grieving person.
- Don’t try and make meaning of the loss for the person. This is something they have to find themselves.
- Don’t expect them to be the same person they were before their loss.
- People change – allow them to change – and embrace who they are becoming.
- Have patience.
- Don’t be afraid to ask them what they need.
- Don’t be frustrated if the person doesn’t know what they need.
- Let them find ways to cope that work for them.
- If you’re worried a person’s coping is harmful or self-destructive, don’t shame them. Understand they’re struggling and find ways to offer help and support instead.
- Offer to do the hard things with them.
- Ask the person how you can support them on difficult days or when facing potentially painful expereinces.
- But give them space when they need it.
- Accept if the person wants to grieve and cope privately.
- Know that even the smallest things – like sending a text checking-in – can be helpful.
- Accept if they aren’t ready to enter certain physical spaces.
- Don’t force them into social situations they aren’t ready for.
- Let them change their mind about doing things or going places without guilt.
- Don’t expect them to explain themselves or provide a rationale.
- Be sensitive that events like celebrations and milestones may be bittersweet for the grieving person.
- Try not to comment on how well a person is doing, often what you see on the outside isn’t even the half of what they’re feeling. Instead, try asking them how they’re doing.
- Don’t walk away.
- Don’t abandon the grieving person.
Share what you think it means to “meet them where they’re at” in the comment section below.
We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.
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30 Comments on "64 Ways to “Meet Grieving People Where They’re At”"Click here to leave a Comment
Kelly Saxby March 2, 2023 at 10:24 am
I lost my mum 8th January 2023.
I lost the most precious beautiful person
In the whole world. I miss her so much
My heart is 💔💔💔
Anne January 27, 2023 at 9:10 am
Listen to what the grieving person is say about what they need. If they say “I don’t need you now, I’ll need you in 6 month or a year from now” or “I’ll need you on the anniversary, the birthday, the holiday” LISTEN to them and show up. Once that initial period is gone and the dust settles. Everyone goes back to their lives and they move on and forget what was asked of them. I told all of my friends that asked what do you need? What can I do for you? That I didn’t need them right now I was so numb I could have gotten through anything. I told them I’ll need you in 6 month, in a year, on their anniversary of their death. But no one listened and those days came and went and I stumbled through. So reach out check in on those days don’t wait for the grieving person to reach out to you. Go to them call, text, show up at their door but let them know you are there.
Winston October 20, 2022 at 1:59 am
I lost my wife on October 12, she was only 39. I am heartbroken and at a loss. Tomorrow will be the last time I see her and it is treating me apart. I don’t sleep and I do all my breakdowns then so I can help support our children during the day. Not saying I don’t get emotional but I have support then. During the night it’s just me and all the thoughts and emotions. The next thing I know it is 4 in the morning and I have to begin getting everyone ready for the day. I miss her so bad and just want to hear her say I love you 1 more time or get mad at me for me doing something stupid. If feel this way I can only imagine how my kids must feel. I am thankful for my youngest because she has been amazing through this whole ordeal. She has been my foundation, hugging me and telling me mom is okay and she will always love in our hearts. I hope for her strength someday.
Val H August 16, 2021 at 1:49 pm
Hi, my name is Valerie and I’m 28 years old, but I go by Val and I lost my Dad on 06/02/2021. I think the 2 items I struggle with is responding with how I’m doing and knowing what I need. I speak to my aunt usually weekly about how I’m doing, but I guess the errand running, grocery shopping, cleaning etc. I just do. I’m thinking maybe I prefer to grieve alone. I did start doing griefshare at a local church, but I don’t feel like I relate to the other members because they are all older and have lost their spouses, friends, parents etc. Not sure what my plan is with my grief, but reading these articles have helped me feel not as alone.
solitaire spider August 4, 2021 at 6:51 am
Know that what a person thinks and feels in grief isn’t always rational – and that’s okay.
Trish July 23, 2021 at 5:12 am
Just be with me moment to moment wherever I happen to be.
Carolyn July 23, 2021 at 4:08 am
My husband and I are missionaries in Spain. He became I’ll during the lock down and we could only speak to a Dr on the phone. He got worse and I had to call an ambulance, they took him away and I never saw him again. They wouldn’t even let me kiss him goodbye because of Covid. He lived a week in the hospital and they called me and told me he had died. We were married 53 years. I feel lost and afraid.
Joanna Lymburner July 23, 2021 at 7:15 pm
My heart is so sad for you, know that he loved you. <3
Lindsay August 1, 2021 at 4:29 am
Carolyn, my husband of 21 years just passed under similar circumstances. He was in the hospital for 3 weeks, and it feels like my children and I were robbed of the chance to say goodbye. I pray the Lord sends ministering angels in the form of his church to care for you.
Thorpuppy August 4, 2021 at 12:01 am
Lindsey….my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. I just lost my beautiful 71 year old mom a month ago. Not too Covid, but a combination of a reaction to the Covid vaccination and a unknown liver problem. She didn’t drink or smoke. It was a shock. She was fine, and then two months later she was gone. I am leaning on God and my husband too get me through this. Hang in there! You like me found this wonderful place to post our stories and hopefully help others in the process!
Thorpuppy August 3, 2021 at 11:56 pm
Carolyn….my heart goes out to you. May God wrap his arms around you during this difficult time. I just lost my mom at the end of June this year. She was 71. I am totally leaning on God during this time. My prayers are with you!
Mary Richard July 22, 2021 at 10:57 pm
“meet them where they’re at” is impossible as far as I’m concerned. My interpretation of these few words is impossible unless they’re experiencing the “same” grief. There are multiple reasons to be grieving: parent(s), spouse, child, etc.
I’ve grieved both my parents and am now grieving the loss of my dear husband. For myself, there is NO comparison! The only grief that would be (not sure) worse is if I lost one of my children through death. Nobody understands how one feels unless they’ve experienced the exact same loss while loving the person who has passed away. I never understood the loss of REAL grief until my amazing husband passed.
Thorpuppy August 4, 2021 at 12:12 am
Mary you make a excellent point. I lost my mom who was 71 years old at the end of June 2021. I have never lost a parent until now. I have lost both sets of grandparents, but never a parent until now. The pain and sadness were intense and something I wasn’t prepared for. I have been leaning on God and my husband who has been wonderful. I couldn’t imagine my life without him. So you are totally right….I would never be able to even pretend to know what it feels like to loose a husband. Each loss….parents, spouse, children are different for everyone. Stay strong!
Suzanne July 22, 2021 at 8:30 pm
This is true fir all relationships but especially For more distant friends/acquaintances…Don’t say, “Let me know if I can do anything” or other open ended statements. It’s hard got a grieving person to know if you mean it or if you are just saying that because you don’t know what else to say.
After a devastating late stillbirth, I tried to take people up on this on occasion but what I asked for they didn’t want to do. In the instance that most comes to mind, the person just never responded at all to my request. (She could have come back with some things she was willing to do, or explained her baby also came early but but alive, and she couldn’t manage much because of a newborn. I thought she was still pregnant but waiting). I guess it was beyond her social skill set—admittedly, not an easy situation.
Anyway, now I nod but take it as just a polite nothing.
I think it’s better to be specific and/or give options.
My father in law lost our step mom recently. He needs people to go to lunch or dinner with him. He’s been blessed that people are reaching out. We’re out of town, so we are grateful too.
There’s a lot on this list about what NOT to do. Can we get more on how to “be there” with someone or “listen well”?
It’s easier to”be there” if the person knows themselves well and is comfortable with their own emotions, versus someone who is running from their pain.
Suzanne July 22, 2021 at 8:43 pm
I see a lot of typos in my previous entry… hope you can still read it.
Anyway, Typing that out made me realize my acquaintance was in a hard spot. Due to the timing, her baby may have come immediately after she offered to help. Since we were communicating by work email, maybe she missed my response due to being at home with a newborn, not at work. At the time, no one told me her baby came early but alive, within a week or so of my loss. Friends were trying to be helpful but it left me clueless. (We had almost identical due dates, and I learned months later that both babies came about a month early.)
However, still, I did learn not to make general statements offering help. So much better to offer specifics or just send a card.
For acquaintances’ losses, I like sending a card about a month out, once the flurry of initial responses have passed.
Claudia Holt July 22, 2021 at 8:17 pm
Your list is amazing and greatly received. So many friends and family walked away from me and our 2 children when my husband died, because they are uncomfortable with death. The 64 points are excellent and I would love to have a copy of them to encourage people to feel comfortable with death. If people knew how to be with death, it would be a kinder world for all of us. Thank you
Gary Boyce July 23, 2021 at 1:58 pm
Hi Claudia- I too had the same “walk away” from my wife’s family and sadly the few remaining friends I thought I had. It too me 2years and 2 months but am now over all of it and I have begun to live and no longer grieve. I remember and recall every day still but things are moving forward. Many of us have “walk away’s” for some reason or another. I am now fine with it and have walked away as well.
Carmella L Russell July 22, 2021 at 6:41 pm
4, 22, 32, 45-48, 63, 64…
You all are still awesome. Thanks for the excellent information!
Levi's Mom July 22, 2021 at 5:42 pm
I chuckled when I read 48 and 49. I never know what to ask for mainly because no one asks anymore. Four years eight months. And, of course, the only thing I want is for this nightmare to end. You made some good points from the material you gleaned from the Instagram and Facebook communities. From my current situation perhaps you could add, or address in a separate article, if the grieving person is alone, make sure they are keeping up with medical issues (even if they think it is time to let Nature take its course). IDK. Not sure I would have listened to anyone. Keep up the good work.
Terri July 22, 2021 at 2:10 pm
I’m Terri, bereaved mom to Misty Dawn who died by suicide on 8/1/2012 at age 35. Thank you for the invitation to add to your very well done list.
An example or 2 would be nice for # 6 and # 7
For #32 – they most certainly will have grief flareups from time to time. On birthdays, anniversaries, serious illnesses and other losses, Graduations. It’s called “re-grieving” and it’s to be expected and it’s normal. If we could use that term more often maybe people would not expect the bereaved to eventually not miss their loved one.
Lastly – on validation (even as it’s used in DBT)…use this tool very carefully as it can easily make things worse for the grieving. Examples – “I don’t know how you do it! I don’t know that I could survive.” And another common validation “Oh, I can’t imagine! You must feel so _______(fill in the blank).”
Thorpuppy August 4, 2021 at 12:16 am
Terri….like all of us on here you are not alone! Prayers!
Hope Sutton July 22, 2021 at 12:43 pm
My beloved son Euan love died two and a half years ago, totally unexpectedly, which took away the fighting spirit in my already very poorly husband. He was so very unhappy and so unwell that part of him would have just longed to be with Euan, however he stayed with me against all the odds for as long as he could as he knew how totally lost I would be without them both. Two months ago his body decided enough was enough and he died.
Losing both my boys makes me feel my whole reason for being is pointless. That’s not true at all, as I have a wonderful daughter and four amazing grandchildren who I love so very dearly.
… but, I feel so very lost. Sometimes I feel life is just pointless without them. I miss my precious husband being here, if I’d popped to the shops he’d be waiting to greet me, looking out for me. Now an empty house, empty rooms, lonely evenings and nights when we just chatted. It’s just so unbelievably tough, but I manage to plaster on my cheery face to the world, so they will be proud of me. By golly though, it hurts!
Thorpuppy August 4, 2021 at 12:15 am
Hope….my thoughts and prayers are with you!
Rosanna Bishop July 12, 2021 at 7:18 am
My precious Mother passed away 3 days before Christmas and my older Sister 10 months before then. I was the only one to take care of both funerals. I could only do graveside services for both because I didn’t want to see anyone outside the family and wanted it over as fast as possible. Not one of the other family members even suggested helping me. I miss both of them so much it HURTS. I need them back in my life, but know that is impossible. I have so much to be thankful for, but my life seems so empty with no meaning anymore. I don’t even want to go outside anymore. I just feel better when I’m in my bedroom. The world outside just seems to big for me anymore. I loved them so much and miss them with all my heart and soul. I was washing dishes early one morning and just started crying and coudn’t stop. My husband told me later that he heard me and tried to sit me in a chair but I was so limp I fell to the floor and the next thing I barely remember was a voice asking my name and I was trying to say it, but couldn’t get it to come out. The next thing I remember is air hitting my face and clear doors in front of me and then I was gone again. The next thing I remember was hearing someone that sounded far away: l 2 3 and felt my body moving. I could barely hear my husband saying something in the background and then someone said I think we need to take you to the hospital…..then I said I thought maybe I was in the hospital and then the person said I mean the hospital across the street and I said what kind of hospital and the person said to help with your depression. That kinda upset me because me and God got through many things together with no help from anyone (losing my stillborn daugher that the doctor said died 13 hours before she was born). It took me 3 years to get back to myself and could laugh and be my silly self again. Although, it’s been 36 years her birthday is always remembered. Now, getting back to my Mother and Sister when the person mentioned the other hospital I said NO and started to get out of the bed and told them I was going home and go to bed and just be beside my sweet cat and I did. I still need to finish getting rid of things at my Mother’s house and my one other sister is the only one that has been a little help and my husband has helped move furniture and I would’nt go with him. All I hear from my 2 nephews is when will the house be sold. They will get 1/3 of the money when the house is sold (sons to my Sister that passed). I just tell them as soon as I can get things done. You would think they would offer to help, but everyone just goes along as if their life has not changed (even my other sister). She wasn’t as close to my Mother. My Mother always called on me for everything and I dropped anything I was doing to do what ever she needed because I wanted to help her and make her feel more secure and to assure her that she always had someone that she could call on at anytime for anything. She once told me I was the only one she could count on……I need her with me so bad and know that sounds crazy. I feel like I’ve lost my idenity. My father and Mother split up when I was 2 weeks old. She told me some of the horrible stories and things she endured, but still loved him. She said she had to protect her children. He did some horrible things and my other sister remembers some of them and said she hated him, but has now forgiven him. It helped me to type this. I can’t even talk to my very best friend anymore that I shared everything with. For some reason I just don’t want to talk to anyone. I tell my Mother and Sister that I love and miss them and for some crazy reason I feel like they talk back to me. In my heart I can hear them say things so sweet like when they were actually here with me. I don’t have any idea who will read this (if anyone), but if someone does read this I desperately ask for your prayers because I don’t feel like life is even worth being here anymore. God bless! Rosanna
anonymous July 15, 2021 at 8:18 am
The desperation you are feeling is also what I have felt.
You are not alone, and I do not believe that either one of us is crazy.
I have thought about what prayer I could pray for you.
I like The Serenity Prayer.
grant me the Serenity
to accept the things I cannot change
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I hope this prayer is big enough to hold you. To comfort you. To help contain you as you mourn.
I think of God as the Source of everything that is.
A Mystery which is still accessible.
If it helps at all, in the 12 months following the physical death of my husband, I frequently would just lie diagonally on our bed– with my head where our feet would normally go– and let our bedroom fan blow gently on my face.
All my life I have loved the feel of a breeze blowing upon me, and resting this way everyday was a great comfort to me.
I felt my husband’s love all around me, especially when I cried, and I knew that I was safe. And that he was safe, too.
I still do this, many years later.
Not as often, yet it is still a reliable and connecting comfort.
Please do the things which have brought you comfort in the past, Rosanna.
I trust you enough to believe that you alone know what they are.
Give yourself whatever gifts you know will gently comfort you.
And please know that, in my heart too, I hear my husband saying sweet and gentle things to me, just as you wrote of your Mother and Sister saying sweet things to you.
It’s ok to listen.
It is a beautiful gift to us from the other side of life.
Thorpuppy August 4, 2021 at 12:31 am
Rosanna I can’t top what anonymous said, but stay strong God is with you. So is your mom and sister. I lost my beautiful mom 71 years old June 29th 2021. The pain 💔 is intense. I know I have a new Guardian Angel looking after me. I have been leaning on God and my husband during this difficult time. God has always been my rock and always will be. My thoughts and prayers are with you!
Christopher Metivier July 3, 2021 at 8:03 am
Please don’t be afraid to bring up the lost loved one. I can only speak for myself, but I resent people not talking about my spouse while in my company. I realize that it can trigger emotions, but this doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong. I hope more people will learn to not be scared to bring up a grieving persons loved one because they think if it makes them emotional they’ve done something wrong. You haven’t! Also, please refrain from comments about strength. It’s humiliating actually, at least to me it is. I don’t feel strong and you’ve not seen me when I’m curled up on the floor. Strength has nothing to do with grief. It’s also suggesting that some have less or more of something that is subjective at best. Maybe I’m just crazy here, but I find it insulting in a way even though I recognize it’s not intended to be the case.
Missie July 22, 2021 at 12:49 pm
I agree. It’s not about being strong. What choice is there. I have critters to feed so I have to get up every day. I need to go to work to earn the money to pay for their care. It’s not strong, it’s what I have to do.
Suzanne July 22, 2021 at 8:46 pm
And those comments also put pressure on a grieving person to “keep up the performance” rather than be free to be real about a tough situation.
Thanks for sharing you found it insulting. I wouldn’t have realized that’s a downside…could you explain more why it bothers you? Is it because it hints you aren’t really deeply touched by the loss?
Thorpuppy August 4, 2021 at 12:33 am
I totally agree. My 71 year old beautiful mom passed away a month ago. I talk about her all the time. It is comforting to me. Prayers to you all!