By Todd H von Gunten, Central Wyoming Hospice & Transitions Grief Care

Do Not Give Advice and Opinions (unless requested)

Life is changed forever after a loved one dies. Those grieving are left to make sense of their lives after someone who has always been there is no longer physically present. Outside advice and opinions only add to their overwhelming stress. You are functioning from your own "normal everyday life" perspective when you seek to help those who are grieving. Your life hasn't changed, theirs has. You might as well be speaking a foreign language to those who are grieving.
Let those who are grieving share what is happening in their life and how they are feeling. Let them speak from their experience instead of inputting your thoughts. It is not necessary to provide answers or attempt to fix the grieving person's situation. Offer your advice and opinions ONLY if they request them. You will be more supportive and helpful by attentively listening and affirming those who are grieving by acknowledging and validating what they are feeling - even if it is difficult to listen to such a painful experience.

Back Off

Those who are grieving need time and space to make sense of what has happened in death. Their ability to spend time with others is limited as they are regularly exhausted by their grief. Brief connections and encouragements are preferred over extended and multiple contacts. A grieving person may not respond to your phone call, message, or text right away. Do not take this personally, and remind yourself, it's not about you. Realize you may be one person trying to console the grieving, but there are probably many people who also care about the grieving person, and ALL those condolences create an accumulative wave of messages, voice mails, and texts which can drown the grieving person under too much good intentioned sympathy.

Overwhelming & Misguided Support

Desiring to support a grieving person is admirable. However, you need to respect the grieving person and his/her needs. Basic words of comfort and emotions are more effective in expressing care (e.g., "I love you", "it's good to see you", "I'm available to listen when you need someone"- and don't be hurt if the grieving person doesn't choose you. Remember, this is not about you.)

Trying too hard to say something, to say "the right things," often ends in clich├ęs and comments that may be painful or hurtful for the grieving person. The grieving person needs time to process what has happened in death, and not quick fix solutions and sayings meant to make them feel better. In truth, such comments make the grieving person feel worse, if not angry with you. For example:
They aren't suffering anymore.

But the grieving person IS suffering.
They're in better place.
But the loved one is no longer physically present.
God must've needed him/her in heaven.
The grieving person still wants their loved one here.
S/he wouldn't want you to be sad.
The grieving person needs to feel any or all emotions.
(A response to difficult emotions) Don't feel that way.
Too late. S/he already felt it and must process it.

Asking a grieving person "how are you" is like asking them "what is it like being set on fire?". Either they don't have a clue how they feel given what's happened, or you are unprepared and DON'T want to know the barrage of emotions they are feeling. If you ever visit someone grieving, make your visits brief and don't overstay your welcome. Just let them know they are loved.
On social media, let the grieving person take the lead in posting. You can support their posts with likes and hearts. You do not need to comment (perhaps if the grieving person addresses you first). Sending numerous memes and comments about what you think the grieving person needs/wants to hear can backfire horribly.

What You Think Will Help Probably Doesn't

People who want to help those who are grieving often have such good intentions. However, what they offer a grieving person is what they would find comforting or helpful. A grieving person is usually not interested in a shopping trip or a road trip. Telling a grieving person, they just need to get out there and be social is very disrespectful of their experience. A grieving person is struggling with exhaustion, loss of confidence as their loved one is suddenly absent, overwhelming emotions which leaves them cognitively cloudy and extra sensitive to social settings and external stimuli. What a grieving person needs is quite simple: your brief and loving presence, time alone to reflect, your patience, and your willingness to listen to whatever the grieving person would like to discuss. If anything, be patient and let the grieving person tell you what would be comforting and helpful in this time. In summary, you don't need to DO. You are more supportive when you can BE available and present when desired.