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Losing a loved one, or a close friend is, unfortunately, something that we will all experience many times in our lives. Grief has been studied by many psychologists and others, who have identified certain stages that many people seem to go through: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. However, we are human beings, and most of us do not experience these in a neat and predictable staged way. We can go around and around, backwards and forwards, and experience other emotions too. Unexpected things can also trigger unexpected emotions, and ‘firsts’ without the person are very difficult.

When we are bereaved, we are vulnerable, whatever age we are and however ‘with it’ we feel we are normally.

One of the best ways of helping people in grief seems to be talking about the person who has died, and how they are feeling. This is often something that we can find difficult to do, unsure of what to say, or bringing up something painful. I love the poem, “There is an Elephant in the Room’ written by Terry Kettering.

The  Elephant in the Room  There’s an elephant in the room. It is large and squatting, so it is hard to get around it.  Yet we squeeze by with, “How are you?” and, “I’m fine,” and a thousand other forms of trivial chatter.  We talk about the weather; we talk about work; we talk about everything else— except the elephant in the room.  There’s an elephant in the room. We all know it is there. We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together.  It is constantly on our minds. For, you see, it is a very big elephant. It has hurt us all, but we do not talk about the elephant in the room.  Oh, please, say her name. Oh, please, say “Barbara” again. Oh, please, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.  For if we talk about her death, perhaps we can talk about her life. Can I say, “Barbara” to you and not have you look away?  For if I cannot, then you are leaving me alone in a room—with an elephant.  --- Terry Kettering

Here are some conversation starters if you are unsure what to say (remember that saying something is always better than saying nothing):

  • I am so sorry for your loss
  • I wish I had the right words to say, just know that I care.
  • I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in any way I can
  • My favourite memory of …. is…
  • I am always a ‘phone call away.
  • *hug*
  • We all need help at times like this, I am here for you
  • I am usually up early/ late, if you need anything.
  • When I lost … I found it helped when I …

It also may be easier to have a conversation whilst doing something else, on a walk, whilst cooking, driving, so that you are not looking directly at each other.

The other person might not want to talk about the situation, and might want to talk about other things, but the acknowledgement and the choice this offers them is important.

Remember if you are helping someone who has been bereaved:

Be ready to talk

Be ready to listen

Be ready to ask others for help

Suggested Links, Reading and Websites

Winston's Wish – learn more

Winston’s Wish was set up in 1992 to help bereaved children who may have lost a sibling or a parent. They work with individuals but also have excellent group work. There is both a helpline 08088 020 021 and also an ASK email service. 

Mosaic – learn more
Mosaic are a Dorset based charity supporting bereaved children and young people, their families and the professionals working with them. Mosaic support children and young people who have been bereaved of someone special, such as a parent, sibling, friend or a member of their extended family They provide direct interaction with children and carers but also have a helpline where anyone involved or affected by a bereavement can receive advice. Call their office on 01258 837 071 or email

Child Bereavement UK learn more
Child Bereavement UK supports young people (up to 25 years old), parents and families rebuild lives when a child grieves or a child dies. Their website has a huge amount of information under the tab of ‘support and information.’ Their direct line number is 0800 02 888 40.


  1. PDF
    Bereavement and Loss leaflet
    Link URL
  1. PDF
    Bereavement leaflet for young people
    Link URL