My Very Brief Etiquette of Grieving

I’ve been asked several times to write about the etiquette of grief yet have been reluctant to cover this subject.  Even the phrase “etiquette of grief” sounds condescending.  Etiquette is a set of social rules.  The grieving process is one of the most powerful and life-changing experiences a person can encounter.  I’ve taken entire courses in grad school covering the subject of grieving and, even in these classes, we barely scratched the surface.  Grief can’t be made to fit into rules of etiquette.  So, my goal with this post is not to cover this process.  It is to stick with the question I’ve been asked and give suggestions about how to socialize with a grieving person with compassion and sensitivity:

  • Acknowledge the loss  The worst thing you can do is ignore what has happened.  Acknowledgment can be as simple as, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”  It’s better to keep it simple and sincere – grief is not very tolerant of verbal fluff.  Also, send a card.  This is one of those times in life that people need to see tangible signs of  support and love. 
  • Be there  Don’t disappear.  Grief is hard to be around and, unfortunately, sometimes even well-meaning friends scatter to the winds.  You can send an email or make a phone call while still respecting a person’s need for privacy and space.
  • Be sensitive  Grief is fickle.  Sometimes people need to talk about their loss; sometimes they need to keep conversations light; sometimes they need to sit alone with their grief.   Be sensitive and follow their lead. 
  • Don’t be sensitive  If there was ever a time to ignore social slights, this is it.  Forgive and forget unanswered calls, abrupt statements, or unaccepted invitations. 
  • Be the same person  If you were a best friend and confidant before the loss, continue to be those things.  If you were an acquaintance or coworker, don’t try to become a best friend or confidant. 

  I hope both that these tips are helpful to you and also that you have no need to use them.

11 thoughts on “My Very Brief Etiquette of Grieving

  1. Great post Amy- as always your advice is realistic, easy to follow, and perfect in timing. This is an issue that many of us struggle with so it is nice to have reminders and guidelines like these.

  2. What a difficult subject. The brief list you compiled is just right. The idea that saying something, even the wrong thing, is better than saying nothing at all is a tough one for me to accept sometimes, but I know that it is correct. Maybe it’s because I believe so much in the power of words and language that I feel what I say to someone who has suffered a loss has to be perfect. It doesn’t. It just has to be said.

    As always, great advice, Amy.

    1. Thanks, Chase! I know exactly what you mean – in the past I’ve stumbled over my words because I’ve tried to say that perfect thing. For some situations though the right words just don’t exist (or at least require someone more eloquent than myself). On to lighter subjects ….


  3. Great job, Amy. So simple and kind. I would add that we need to expect to do these things for the grieving person for at least two years. Maybe more. Especially if the loss is from the immediate family. And it also goes for divorce. Sighs.


    1. Katharine,
      Thank you so much for your feedback. I agree that at least two years is probably a good guideline. Grief has a way of sneaking back up on you, doesn’t it? Absolutely think this would apply to divorce.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

  4. I love Freshly Pressed, but now I LOVE Freshly Pressed! WOW! I’m currently grieving the loss of my mother. It’s been 6 weeks and I’m lost and confused and feeling guilty for going on with life.

    Her passing was both expected and sudden, and I was telecommuting from Panama 3 days after the funeral. I still haven’t stopped, but don’t know if I need to, or even want to.

    I do know I have an incredibly short fuse these days. I have become a social retard. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next. Your suggestions make me realize that, for the most part, I have an awesome set of friends.

    Well done!

    1. So sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. 6 weeks is very recent and I don’t think you could possibly be a social retard. What are you supposed to do next? Allow yourself time to grieve, there is not quick fix to the loss of a loved on. Going on with your life does not mean forgetting your loss, in fact, go on with your life with such passion that you honor your mom. The outstretched hand of a friend is sometimes the only way to stop grief from sweeping you away so use those awesome friends.

      Thoughts to you,

  5. Wise words. I think so many people are so afraid to say the “wrong thing” that they say nothing. The reality is that there is no “right thing.” I have also heard people say, “I don’t want to remind them about it.” If you are still thinking about it–you can bet the person closer to the loss is as well. Nicely written–I will visit again.

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