Grief support

For supporters

1.Grief Support


There is no single way to support grief, just as grief-related feelings and subsequent processes are different for each person. Also, sadness of losing a loved one lasts for a long time while changing its strength and form, and completely eliminating grief is not a goal. Supporters provide bereaved family the help to go on with a new life while keeping the memories of loved ones in the grief.

Provide assistance that is tailored to the bereaved family’s needs at a pace with and in a method suitable for them to recover from their grief. It is very important that the bereaved feel it is safe to spend time with supporters.




2.Before providing grief support


In general, talking about death is best considered to be avoided.  It is easy for people to have false beliefs about death. The following are typical of such beliefs. Before you start supporting the bereaved, remember these:


☒Sadness will heal over time.

The truth is that time can be a great help, but grief from losing a loved one will stay for life.


☒The less you think about loss, the less you suffer.

The truth is that grief and thinking about the lost person are totally normal reactions. One can recover from grief through that pain.


☒It helps the bereaved more by not mentioning bereavement.

The truth is that too much intrusion on a bereaved family’s feeling should be avoided, but expressing feelings and having opportunities to talk about bereavement can be a great help for them.


☒People who cry or share more of their thoughts suffer more than those who do not express their emotions.

The truth is that how a person expresses grief does not reflect the degree of grief in their mind.  Especially for men and children, the degree of grief they express and actually feel are often different.


☒Children’s sorrow is not as deep as that of adults. Even if they are sad, they can get over in a short period of time.

The truth is that despite all children being able to experience grief and sorrow, they can only express it in different ways with adults. Because children tend to have difficulty understanding death and being immature in expressing their feelings, they may be hurt more than adults and suffer from the disadvantage of not being able to obtain correct information.


※Referenced from Burnell GM, Burnell AL [author] (1994). “Clinical Management of Bereavement: A handbook for healthcare professionals” (Translated to Japanese by Hiroshi Hasegawa and Masasuke Kawano).


Immediately after losing their loved one, the bereaved family may show intense grief and people close to them may be worried. However, a large part of their grief reactions will diminish over time. Please refer to the section of “What is Grief?” on this website before you start grief support. It is much easier for supporters to start reaching out to the bereaved after understanding grief reactions in advance than not knowing them.



3.Things that supporters should know for providing support


What is required for grief support is different for each individual. The following are some factors that supporters should keep in mind:


1)Many bereaved families think it is only them feeling so much grief or maybe they are not normal because they are taking so long to recover from grief. Let them know it is totally natural to have various emotional reactions that they cannot control or their physical disorder continues. Tell them it is alright to cry if tears form.


2)Cases of grief, conditions of their grief, the impact of bereavement, and ways to cope with grief are very different to each person. It is important that supporters understand typical grief reactions. Remember that it can be harmful for supporters to interpret the bereaved’s thoughts and grief reactions or give them easy advice about how to cope with their grief. It is important to respect the way a family accepts bereavement and how they are trying to find meaning in their loss.


3)It is very important to spend normal daily life, such as waking up in the morning, changing clothes, eating three meals, and organizing accommodations and work. It is also very important to discuss practical issues, such as holding a memorial service, arranging a grave site, and arranging childcare for busy parents. If there are daily matters that can be supported, ask the bereaved family what they want supporters to do first. Even if that means support for material things, such support will help in their psychological care.


4)After losing a loved one, people lose a source of peace in their heart. Keep in mind that the words like “Do your best” can be a burden to them at such a time. Some bereaved family members may need to see medical doctors or to take medication. Note that the idea of “Overcoming through one’s own mental strength” may be inappropriate in many cases.


5)When a supporter has built good and trusting relationship with the bereaved family, it may be good for the supporter to provide them with the following information:

  • The duration of the grief is different for each person, and each member should recover at their own pace.
  • The first and most important matter is to live a normal daily live, getting enough sleep and eating three meals a day.
  • It is more appropriate to talk to someone you trust about your feelings and experiences rather than keeping them to yourself.
  • Anniversary days, including the birth date and death date of the deceased, wedding anniversaries and memorial days may bring back memories and make family members feel sorrow again.
  • It is also effective to consult with experts in bereavement care when they feel troubled.


※Referenced from Noriko Setou and Noriko Murakami (2011). “Care of the Bereaved Family Following Traumatic Bereavement – Understanding Loss and Trauma (Japanese)” on “Supplementary Volume of the Latest Medicine: PTSD” edited by Nozomu Asukai. Saishin Igaku-sha.