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Mullen-Johnson: Showing Support for Those who are Grieving

By Crystal Mullen-Johnson

The process of grief occurs after a death, divorce, job loss, or change one perceives as important to them.  Grief is a natural process of mourning a loss. Those who are grieving experience myriad emotions including sadness, anger, despair, and loneliness. For those who are grieving, these feelings are often overwhelming and difficult to manage. The best way to support someone who is grieving is to communicate that it is okay to express these emotions. Reinforce to them that they can express their grief without judgment.

Witnessing someone grieve a loss is often painful and confusing to understand. Those who are grieving may find it difficult, and may be too emotionally fragile, to communicate their need for support, at a time when they need it most. It is common for family and friends to send text messages, provide meals, flowers, and make phone calls in the first weeks of the death.

During the first week of the loss those who are grieving are often too numb and psychologically detached to fully embrace the support. It is after the funeral is over, the meals have run out, the cards have been read, and others have moved on with their lives that the void and emptiness is felt and when the greatest amount of support is needed. Do not take it personal if someone in grief isolates.  It is likely harder for them to accept the persons death and they often do not wish to discuss it out loud repeatedly.

Loss is personal therefore most people do not know what to say to someone who is grieving.  They also may not know how to provide support. It is important to be mindful of the impact of your response to their loss. Some of the most common consoling statements are “I understand,” “I know how you feel”, “Be strong”, and “They are in a better place.” While those statements are meant to be empathetic, they may offend someone who is grieving.

The grieving person may ask themselves, “Do they really understand”? “How could they know how I feel”? “What if I am not strong? What if I don’t want to be strong”? “Does them being in a better place supposed to make their loss easier to handle”?

Instead consider saying, “What can I do to support you”? “You are in my thoughts and prayers”. “I am here for you, whenever you need me”. Or “If you ever need to talk, I am here to listen”.

Here are 7 “B”s to support those who are grieving:


1-Be genuine. Show compassion and patience.

2-Be cautious.  Do not ask for details about their loss.  Revisiting the story can be painful to discuss. Allow them to talk, without interruption or without rushing them.

3-Be present and future. Those who are grieving will need help, not just at the time of their loss, but for many months thereafter. Make sure to call and check on them often.

4-Be permissive.  Allow them to cry, talk, and scream, if necessary, in order to work through their grief. Let them know how they grieve is okay. The important thing is that they grieve.

5-Be a resource. Help connect them to resources which can provide support during their grieving process.

6-Be considerate. Ask the griever if they need anything, as opposed to assuming what they need.

7-Be accepting. Give them permission to grieve and to find peace.


Remember grief is a natural process that does not happen in a specific order or time frame. It is comforting to those in grief to have support months after their loss. Continue calling, texting, and offering your support.

Dutch Clergyman Henri Nouwen reminds us, “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing…not healing…not curing…that is a friend who cares.

Be a friend who cares.


Register for Strive Counseling Services free mental health awareness virtual learning session. Lisa Bahar, LPC will present, “Tune Your Relationship Compass:

How to maintain a healthy successful relationship” on Aug. 13. Registration is free https://www.strivebhm.com/upcoming-events


Crystal Mullen-Johnson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Registered Play Therapist in Birmingham, AL with more than 16 years of experience in providing counseling. Strive Counseling Services is a private practice located in downtown Birmingham that offers therapeutic mental health services to children (play therapy), adolescents, and adults. Strive offers evidence-based therapeutic modalities such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Contact us at (205) 721-9893 to inquire about Telehealth Services.