The Greatest Gift You Can Give Someone Whose Loved One Died Suddenly

Four concrete actions to take when someone you love loses someone unexpectedly.

Comforting friend strong mother funeral Pavel Danilyuk, pixelshot | Canva

When someone we care about loses someone — especially if the person died young or suddenly — or both — words can escape us.

If we know what a grieving friend or family member needs, it gets a little easier.

It all comes down to one thing: Be about action, not just words.

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At the outset of grief, your actions speak louder than words.

My sons had returned from working in Europe, and my mother's heart had finally slowed its angsty beat. My son told us he had "horrible news" to share.

I braced myself. He'd gotten back from narrow mountain trails, crowded hostels, and rickety bus trips all over Eastern Europe intact. What could be wrong now? At 27, he didn't often share much news at all.

He struggled for a moment, then blurted out, "Lori's mom died suddenly."

Lori, a dear frined of his from college and after, was crushed. Her mom hadn't had health problems at all, and she'd just been to a concert with her daughter the previous weekend. She was only 53.


"I'm going to the funeral," Sean said.

We nodded, of course. He stood there for a few more minutes

"How are you feeling?" I asked.

"I...I'm not sure," he said. "Things like this aren't supposed to happen."

"No," I agreed, thinking back to all the other deaths I'd had to face in my own life and wishing he didn't have to. "It's tough to handle a tragedy like this."

"I'm thinking of her," he said, ever the sensitive man who will someday make someone an amazing romantic partner. "But...But what do I say?"

"It's not about what you say, but how you say it." I began. "And even more, what you do."

Four ways to be about action when someone you love experiencs a massive loss

1. Listen more than talk.

There are countless things you could say. Just look at all these suggestions Parade published. Yet it's more than an "I'm sorry for your loss."


"It's more about listening than talking," I told him. "What you say is based on what they need, and sometimes you can only tell what they need by letting them talk their feelings out. And don't forget, she and her entire family are in shock, so let her take the lead. Then make sure you follow up well past the funeral."

2. Allow yourself to feel.

Even intuitive people and empaths can misread this kind of sensitive situation even if they can sense what the other person might need. Everyone can develop the ability to open themselves up to another's feelings. They just have to allow their own feelings to flow.

If you ask, "what do you need?" you may be met with "I don't know!" or "I need to be alone." when that may be true in the moment but not 24/7. I am not offended if grief stricken friends are short with me. I keep checking in, but in different ways after waiting a bit. It's important to give them time to heal in their own way. /p>

What one grieving person needs is unique to them and different to what others may need. So we have to practice active listening: "I hear that you'd like to go out alone, right?"


Or, you can try simple observing. Be patient to gradually figure out what they need instead of impulsively doing something they don't ask for or filling an awkward silence.

Most people don't mind the silence when they are this sad. Our presence alone validates they aren't losing their minds when they lose their composure, and we can reassure them with words, too, if asked.

RELATED: 15 Healthy Ways To Mourn When Someone You Love Is Suddenly Gone

They might ask us:

  • "Are you angry that I'm shutting you out?"
  • Answer: "Absolutely not. You do what you need to do. I'm here for you."


  • "I feel like I'm going crazy. Do I seem crazy?"
  • Answer: "No, you're just grieving. "

We have to feel our way instead of talk our way through supporting grief. We may not know what to do because well, it (sadly) takes practice. Yet there's one thing you can be sure they want. You can always know the person grieving wants you to remember their loved one.


3. Ensure their loved one will be remembered.

There's one universal thing most people whose loved one has died is seeking, and that's the assurance their loved one won't be forgotten. So find a way to preserve their memory.

This may seem difficult at first, but it's not at all. Think of the memories you share with your friend or family member, and the memories you both share with the person who crossed over. Some examples:

  • When my dad was having life-threatening surgery, the entire family gathered at the hospital and told funny stories about him. Believe me, there were plenty, and we laughed instead of cried. He survived that surgery, but I'll remember those hours as long as I'm alive.
  • Send a card or email on the deceased's birthday (not their death day) and tell your friend that you're thinking of them.
  • Plant a tree in their name.
  • Buy a bench near the ocean they loved and inscribe it. /li>
  • My son gave a tree in memory of Lori's mom, saying he didn't want to give the family anything that would just decay. /li>
  • My colleague got a tattoo in honor of her friend who suddenly died in her 40s. she told me, "I debated telling my friend's mother that I got a tattoo in honor of her daughter, after her passing. I didn't want to upset her mom by reminding her of my friend/her daughter's death," she told me. "But our other friend said that when her brother died when they were teenagers, her dad's biggest fear was that his son would be forgotten."

The list of ways to remember someone is limitless. These ways of commemorating a person's life aren't just limited to people, either. My daughter's tattoo of boots commemorates her special senior cat she adopted by that name.

Think about what the person who died loved and then do that for them and your friend, especially if it was something they loved to do together.


4. Remember, it's more than words or a card.

A grieving person needs more than words. They need a feeling, a hug, a listening ear, a shoulder to lean on.

What they don't need: Someone telling them it will all be okay. That time heals. That you didn't grieve your loved one like they are. They need acceptance and active listening. If they want to share memories, let them, and tell them your memories. If they want to be silent or aloof, let them. If they want to get out of the house, go with them.

My son (who hates shopping) accompanied his friend to the shops. That was a true act of giving. He's followed up with her with no expectations. He's planted the tree.

And me? I care about his friend, too. Her mother must have been amazing. I'm writing about her now so I never forget.


We've had to look Death in the face a lot the past few years. There's very little that can help much except the time we spend with the grieving, sharing ourselves, and finding ways to remember. The world needs more of all three.

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Kathryn Brown Ramsperger wrote for National Geographic and Kiplinger before working as a humanitarian journalist in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. She's also an intuitive creativity coach and creator of Step Into Your Story! (TM), as well as the award-winning author of two novels, including her latest: A Thousand Flying Things