Dying Matters Awareness Week takes place from 13th to 19th May 2019. In this blog, Content Developer Azmina suggests 10 practical ways of supporting a friend who has lost someone to cancer.

Dying Matters is a national organisation, which encourages people to talk more openly about dying, death and bereavement. Dying Matters Awareness Week is held every year in May and the theme for 2019 is Are We Ready? The question can be interpreted in several ways.

This blog asks: Are We Ready to support somebody with the heartache of losing a loved one to cancer?


Talking about bereavement
If your friend is grieving, it can be difficult to know what to say and do. You may be worried about making them more upset or feel awkward talking about bereavement.

Yet, your friend needs your care and compassion now more than ever. Losing someone that we love is one of the most intensely painful things that we can experience.

10 practical ways to support a bereaved friend

You may find these suggestions of how to comfort a bereaved friend helpful:

1. Acknowledge your friend’s loss straight away. When you hear of your friend’s bereavement, acknowledge their loss as soon as possible. It is always better to say something to show that you care rather than avoiding the subject.

A simple and sincere expression of empathy is a great starting point. For example, you could say ‘I am so sorry to hear of your loss’ and send a sympathy card or a free Macmillan ecard.

2. Choose a thoughtful gift. You may wish to buy your friend a sympathy gift, such as a bouquet of flowers or a rose bush that they could plant in memory of their loved one. Other gift ideas are a book about coping with loss or a nice photo frame.

Alternatively, you could make a charity donation in memory of the person who has died. Macmillan has more information about this.

3. Reach out and keep in regular contact. Grief can be lonely and isolating. Rather than just telling your friend that you are thinking of them, reach out and keep in touch. You could suggest an activity to do together, such as going for a walk or visiting a place that brings back special memories.

4. Encourage your friend to talk and be a good listener. If your friend talks about their loss, you can help them by listening and not changing the subject. Do not be afraid to mention the person who has died or share a story about them. This shows you understand that they are still an important part of your friend’s life.

5. Let your friend show their emotion. If your friend starts to cry, allow them to express their sadness openly. Touching their hand or putting an arm around their shoulders may be more comforting than words.

Try to be non-judgemental and do not say that you know how your friend is feeling. Everyone grieves in their own way. Bereavement can cause a confusing mix of emotions, including deep sadness, fear, anger, guilt or relief that a loved one’s suffering is over.

6. Avoid clichés and religious statements. Avoid clichés such as ‘time is a great healer’, which may not comfort your friend when they are experiencing raw grief. Also, be careful about saying that their loved one is ‘in a better place’. If you have a religious faith, remember that your friend may not share your beliefs.

7. Offer practical help. Grieving can be exhausting. Suggest specific practical ways of helping your friend, such as cooking a meal, babysitting, making phone calls or dealing with paperwork. Small acts of kindness can make a big difference.

8. Keep up your support after the funeral. Your friend may initially be in shock or denial and kept occupied by organising the funeral. The enormity of their loss may only hit them in the following weeks or months, when it seems that everyone has forgotten.

There is no time limit on grieving and your friend may need continued support. Make a note to contact them on especially hard days, such as the anniversary of the death, birthdays, Christmas or other holidays.

9. Tell your friend about the support available from Macmillan. Let your friend know that they can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 for a free confidential chat (7 days a week, 8am to 8pm). They can also visit Macmillan’s In your area webpage to find local one-to-one or group support.

10. Encourage your friend to see their GP if they are not coping. If you are concerned that your friend is not coping or looking after themselves properly, they may need extra help. Their GP can refer them to support services or prescribe medication if needed.

Macmillan has more information about bereavement in our free booklet After someone dies: coping with bereavement. There are also bereavement groups on Macmillan’s Online Community, where people can connect with others who have lost someone to cancer.

Although you can never take away the pain of someone’s loss, your love, support and friendship can make their journey through grief that bit lighter to tread.

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