Catholic News Service photo
Father Michael O'Mara, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis, comforts mourners.
Catholic News Service photo
Father Michael O'Mara, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis, comforts mourners.
When a friend or family member is grieving the loss of a loved one, there is a strong desire to help, but for many people that comes with the worry about not being able to find the “right” words.

Servite Sister Barbara Kennedy, clinical director of Northwest Catholic Counseling Center, advises folks to remember these three ideas: Simple, sincere, supportive.

But the most important thing, she says, is to just be present for the person who is grieving.

“We tend to back away from intensity,” Sister Barbara says. “Don’t be afraid of strong feelings. Don’t try to make them go away.”

If the grieving person is a close friend or relative, you should contact them right away, she advises. She suggests waiting a day or two to contact people who are not so close and ask if it would be acceptable to come by. Take cues from the family in regard to how long to stay, or whether it’s appropriate to reminisce.

Sometimes no words are necessary. Don’t be afraid of silence, Sister Barbara says, “It’s really OK to sit and just be.”

Franciscan Father Ben Innes, pastor of Ascension Parish in Southeast Portland, agrees that there are no magic words. 


“Your presence is the thing that is important,” he says. 


As Father Innes helps families take care of all the planning details of a funeral Mass. He pays close attention to the family dynamic, sometimes making a special effort to draw out thoughts from a quiet sibling or child, so everyone can have input on liturgy planning.

One of the most important times to reach out is after the services are over and everyone has gone home and returned to their normal routines. That’s especially important for someone who has lost his or her spouse after a long marriage. Take the initiative to invite that person out: Start with a one-on-one chat, and slowly work up to bigger groups if he or she feels comfortable, Sister Barbara advises.

Finally, if grieving people isolate themselves, hint at suicide, quit a job or aren’t eating, those are signals that they may need extra help, maybe from a counselor.