Supporting someone bereaved or affected by a sudden death

You may feel you don’t know what to say to someone who has lost a relative or friend suddenly, but your support can make a huge difference. Being there for them and prepared to listen if they want to talk, can help.

Please click here if the death was due to any of the following specific sudden death situations. We have dedicated sections on our website with information to help you cope with these.

These are dedicated sections on our website with information to help you cope with these situations.

How you can help

Acknowledge what’s happened. Let them know you’ve heard the news. Use the name of the person who has died and speak respectfully of them.

Express your care and concern. Tell them that you’re there for them and want to support them, now and in the days to come. Respect any cultural differences.

Listen to them. Don’t push them to talk or to tell you more than they want to. Their emotions may be very strong, even extreme, but let them get out what’s inside. They might repeat themselves so be patient. Repeating is a way of processing what’s happened. Don’t jump in with advice. Understand if they’d rather talk with someone else. You can show your support and care in other ways.

Let the person grieve. It’s painful but grief is normal and healthy. Don’t minimise their loss or criticise how they’re dealing with it. Let them grieve in their own way, at their own pace. Bereaved parents can have an especially difficult grief journey and can need a lot of caring understanding and support.

Silence might be what they need. Don’t always fill silence with words. You can also show support through eye contact, a squeeze of the hand, or a reassuring hug.

It’s okay to feel emotion yourself. Just make sure your focus is on the person. If you get overwhelmed, take a break to catch your breath. You don’t want the person to feel they’re responsible for supporting you.

Ask how you can help or make specific offers. Don’t force help on them. Offer to do things like take them to an appointment, have a coffee, or drop off a meal. It’s okay if they say no. Offer again another time.

Avoid giving opinions and strong advice not asked for. You don’t need to know the answers to all their questions. If you do have some suggestions, start by saying… "Have you thought about..." or "You might like to...", so the choice stays with them.

Check in regularly. Don't assume how they are. Ask them. The grieving process can be long and complex, so continue to support them. Remember key dates such as anniversaries and birthdays. When the moment seems right, share positive memories.

Watch for signs that they might need some extra help. If any of their reactions concern you, or you are worried about their safety, talk about it with them first and encourage them to seek help – eg.,“ I’m very concerned about you right now. I think you need to talk with someone about how bad you’re feeling and get some good help. How can I support you to find that help?”

It may help you learn more about their grief and trauma experience:

If children or young people have been affected by the death
See our information sheet for parents and caregivers about Supporting your child or young person after a crime or traumatic event.

Take good care of yourself. Supporting someone after a sudden death can be challenging, especially if you’re grieving the loss. Your well-being matters as well. Sometimes, the things that another person has experienced can start to have a second-hand effect on you also. This is known as vicarious or second-hand trauma and grief. It may cause some strong reactions in you. The links below may be helpful if this has been happening for you.

Other useful resources and websites

Helping Someone Who’s Grieving

64 of the Best Things Ever Said to a Griever



Coping with Trauma
When you are Grieving
Dealing with flashbacks