Supporting a grieving friend is hard, especially when they seem lonely. You don’t want to force someone to be social, but you do want them to know they’re loved and supported. Here are five compassionate things you can say to a grieving friend who seems lonely.
1. “Are you feeling lonely?”
Grieving people won’t always tell you they’re lonely. Maybe they’re afraid they’ll dampen the fun or perhaps they fear rejection. Or, maybe they think it’s just not worth mentioning. Asking directly about their loneliness level gets right to the heart of the matter, and gives room for someone to feel safe in answering honestly.
If the answer is no, believe them. Take what they tell you at face value, without prying. They may not feel lonely now, but that could change in a day, or even an hour. Leave the door open for them to say yes later.
Of all the things to say to a lonely person, asking someone if they’re lonely may be uncomfortable, it might even feel like prying. But that brief moment of awkwardness for you can mean the world for someone in pain. Ask them if they’re feeling lonely.
2. “Would you like some company?”
This is such a gentle yet meaningful thing to say to a lonely person. It’s low-pressure and an easy offer to decline with a minimum of stress. Offer your company while someone runs errands or tackles a difficult task like turning off cell phone service. Or, just offer to sit together doing nothing in particular – togetherness doesn’t have to mean talking.
Simple companionship can ease the loneliness of grief to a surprising degree. People often resist asking for company because they don’t want to impose or because they’re not up to a typical, chatty social visit. They might not ask because they’re afraid your company comes with a side order of advice on how to grieve. Let them know your offer comes with no expectations, and no strings. Tell them you just want to be present because you care.
3. “When you feel like talking, I’d love to listen.”
People often ask how I help someone with loneliness, and this open-ended invitation is one of my first responses. It acknowledges the person’s need for connection, yet doesn’t put them on the spot for an immediate response. It’s so much more powerful than a bland cliche like, “let me know if you need anything.” It offers tangible, practical support and companionship, but on their terms – if and when they’re ready, for whatever they want to talk about.
It’s difficult for grieving people to predict how they’ll feel from moment to moment. It’s hard to plan what they might want to talk about, too. The open-endedness of this offer lets them choose, which is particularly meaningful for someone who feels overwhelmed with things they have no choice but to accept.
4. “You can always be honest with me about what you need when you feel lonely.”
You have a supporting role, not the central role, in your friend’s grief. This may seem like a strange thing to say to a lonely person. But so many of the suggestions, advice and “help” given to grievers tells them they should be doing this differently, or feeling differently than they do. Many just keep their true feelings to themselves.
Grief is a very personal experience, and belongs entirely to the person experiencing it. Acknowledging that can help someone feel safe enough to express how they really feel. You might have opinions, but keep them to yourself unless asked. This grief belongs to your friend: follow their lead. Let them tell the truth as they’re living it.
5. “Please join us when you’re ready. We miss you.”
There are secondary losses that come with grief – like how quickly you lose friends after your person dies. People fade from someone’s life because they don’t know what to say, or they feel uneasy around all that pain. It might not even be that complicated – to be blunt, people have their own lives to get back to. It’s hard to find time for the people you care about sometimes.
Those secondary losses are a big part of why so many grieving people feel overwhelmingly alone: it feels like life went on without them. Everyone goes back to “normal,” and for them, there is no more normal to go back to.
Maintaining social ties is hard, especially over the long haul. It’s easy to understand when your friend declines an invitation in the early days of grief, but there are only so many events a person can miss before you just stop inviting. By the time your grieving person is ready to be social again, recovering those relationships may seem impossible.
You may be thinking, “how do I help someone with loneliness if they won’t accept my invitations?” Letting someone know they’re missed and are welcome back when they’re able is one of the most compassionate ways to support someone in grief, both in the moment and as their lives unfold. People want to know there’s a place for them in your life. Keep inviting, keep reaching out.
Want to learn more ways to better support the people you love? Visit this link to educate yourself on how to be an effective helper.