Five Ways to Show Empathy to a Grieving Loved One

During times of grief, having a trusted support system is invaluable.

Society teaches us to express our condolences and send messages of sympathy, which are certainly helpful to the bereaved. Taking it a step further and showing empathy can be even more precious.


What’s the difference?

Sympathy is an acknowledgment of someone’s misfortune. When a death occurs, for example, it’s customary to express sympathy for the family by sending a card or flowers to the funeral home. Empathy, on the other hand, is the ability to actually understand someone’s feelings, not just feel bad for them. In a sense, empathy is feeling with someone while sympathy is feeling for someone. When a dear friend or beloved family member suffers a great loss, empathy is what’s truly needed. Here are some ways you can be more empathetic toward a grieving loved one.


Leave judgmental attitudes at the door.

Real empathy acknowledges that what your friend is experiencing may be very different from your reaction to the same circumstances. It does not impose your opinion of how someone should be feeling. Rather, empathy is an open-hearted invitation for the other person to express his or her sentiments and your willingness to join them on their journey.   


Don’t steal the spotlight.

It can be helpful to share your own experiences that your friend might relate to, but be mindful to keep the focus where it belongs. This is not the time to talk about your life and current struggles.


Consider your body language.

Show that you’re actively listening, such as by nodding your head and making eye contact. Watch the other person’s body language, too, as it can tell you if he or she is comfortable talking about certain topics. Listen more than talk and offer your undivided attention.  


Don’t assume you know what the other person is feeling.

If you have experienced something similar, you may relate deeply to your friend. This is one reason why peer support groups can be helpful. It can be comforting to be in the company of others who have lost a loved one to suicide, or who have lost a spouse or a child. But grief is always as unique as the individual and his or her relationship with the one who passed on, and that shouldn’t be forgotten. During your interactions, focus on listening and being present rather than assessing the situation through your own lens.


Offer your help in specific ways.

When people are bereaved, it is common for them to feel overwhelmed by the weight of the loss. They might not know where to turn for help or they may fear being a burden to others. Whether it’s assisting with daily tasks or finding healthy outlets for grief, do what can show your support. For example, you could offer to pick up the kids from daycare, get some groceries, or have a meal delivered. Whatever you offer to do, make sure you follow through with the task.


Remember that everyone experiences loss differently.

Just as there is no singular way to mourn, there are many ways to demonstrate empathy. Show up for your bereaved loved ones with an open heart and mind. Listen intently and let them know that you are there to support them along their journey, wherever it may lead.


We hope these tips help you communicate empathy to those who are grieving. If you have questions are need additional information, we are here to assist you. Please reach out to our caring professionals anytime.


About Evan W. Smith Funeral Services: Since 2009, residents of Wilmington, Dover, and the surrounding Delaware community have relied on the caring staff at Evan W. Smith Funeral Services to help them through their darkest hours. Family-owned and operated, the company offers an array of elite funeral care services, including traditional funerals, cremations, memorials, pre-planning, and more. With decades of experience in caring for families from all cultural backgrounds and diverse walks of life, Evan W. Smith Funeral Services is committed to creating memorable, uplifting experiences that always exceed expectations. For more information, please visit

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