This article was sent to us by Angie McLaughlin a psychologist and family therapist in Dublin and gives advice about how to support someone when they have a loss.

Social Creatures

We are social creatures. We attach easily to others and we take great joy from our relationships with others. Even those of us who are ‘loners’ often have a beloved pet that they are attached to. So when someone dies, we experience intense pain like no other. It affects our whole being physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. People describe experiencing a ‘physical ache’ and a feeling of emptiness.

They often question their spirituality and their faith in the world around them. There is often a feeling of disbelief and wondering ‘why me?’ Often people isolate themselves from others as they don’t feel that others understand what they are going through.

They find that they are afraid to be alone, but then when they are with others, they don’t want to be around them as they feel different. Everyone deals with grief differently whether it be the loss of a baby, a parent, a sibling, a spouse or a friend. There is no right way to grieve.


It is often very hard for others knowing how to support people who have been bereaved. We are hard-wired to empathise with others and we don’t like to see other people in pain as we often take on some of that pain ourselves. There is no right way to offer support, as different people will need different things.

One of the nice things about living in a small community is that there are already important rituals in place. The corpse house gives us an opportunity to show that we care and to offer condolences. The funeral service is also important to remember and honour the person.

Families often report finding comfort in seeing so many people attend services. It is helpful to tell stories and share memories of the deceased. The rituals, while very emotionally difficult, give us a way of saying goodbye and acknowledging that this person really mattered to us in our lives.


People often show that they care in many ways after the services are over in the weeks and months to come by sending cards and approaching the bereaved with condolences. This can feel awkward especially if you don’t know the person well, trying to figure out the right thing to say.

It’s important to remember that there is nothing that you can say that will make them feel better as they have just suffered a huge loss. There is no way around grief. People just have to go through it and have faith that one day it will feel better.

It is better not to try to say anything in an effort to make them feel better. It may take a long time before they will. Most people prefer that you sympathise with their loss and leave it at that. If you have also suffered a loss it can be helpful sometimes to share this as you will be able to understand in a way that others can’t.

While you can’t say anything to take away the person’s pain, people who are bereaved often talk about things that people say and do that are not helpful. So when supporting someone, here are a few things to avoid:

• Approaching someone in the pub or when they are out socialising: the person may need a break from thinking about their loss. Instead, make a note to yourself and pop up to the house or send a card.

• Approaching someone while they are working: it is healthy for many people to return to their old routine and work can be a good distraction. It is natural for co-workers to offer condolences and support. It is better to check in with the person and find out what they want in terms of talking about their loss or not.

• Statements like ‘It’s for the best’, ‘It’s God’s will’, ‘It was meant to be’, ‘They had a good long life’, ‘You’re young you can have more children’. Even if the deceased person was in a lot of pain with a poor quality of life before they died, a loved one ultimately wishes that the sickness and death didn’t happen at all. They just want the deceased person back. People who have been bereaved often report finding these statements frustrating and un-empathic.

• Don’t tell the person how they should feel or that they should ‘be over it by now’. People experience all kinds of different emotions and take different lengths of time to mourn. It’s best to give them the space to do this in their own way and in their own time.


Take the person’s lead in when and how much they want to talk about the death or the person that they have lost. It can be very overwhelming so it’s important that they have control over when to talk.

Instead, there may be practical ways that you can help. Take up a pot of stew to the house. Offer to babysit for a couple of hours if the person has children. Ask if they need help picking up shopping. Or maybe they just need someone to listen to them.

How close you are to the person will affect the support that you give. We are all good at different things so offer support in something that you can do. Don’t expect yourself to sit and listen if this is really hard for you to do. A card expressing your sorrow may be enough.

Grieving is a long and difficult process which everyone does differently. There is no right way to grieve so remember not to judge people based on what you might do or not do. Everyone has to cope as best as they can and in the way that they know how. However family, friends and community are vital in helping a person grieve, get back on their feet and come to terms with the loss of their loved one.

Angie McLaughlin
Psychologist, Family Therapist