Talking about grief: tips for having the ultimate difficult conversation

York St John University’s Director of Bereavement Services shares advice for supporting loved ones through loss 

York St John Communities Centre is marking National Grief Awareness Week (2 to 8 December 2023) by encouraging frank and open discussions about grief and loss. The Centre is hosting a ‘Better Together Cafe’ on Wednesday 6 December, from 1.00 to 3.00 pm.

This free public event will offer a chance to meet with others to share experiences of loss as well as engage with bereavement experts and find out more about the support services on offer at the Centre. The team are also keen to see other health and social care professionals to explain how to access our service as support for their clients and patients.

The event will be informal with tea and cake on offer. To be sure of seating, places should be booked via Eventbrite, but if you’d rather just drop in, the team would love to see you.

The Better Together Café is organised by Dr John Wilson, Director of Bereavement Services at York St John and author of The Plain Guide to Grief, in partnership with the Good Grief Trust.

Dr Wilson said: “The aim of National Grief Awareness Week is to normalise talking about grief. We all lose loved ones and we all feel loss, it shouldn’t be something that we feel we have to hide.

“Our doors are open for anyone dealing with grief themselves or who knows someone who has suffered a loss. Come along and find out more about what we do and what help is out there.”

Ahead of the event, he has written ten top tips to help a relative, friend or neighbour through their grief:

  1. Help with simple, practical acts immediately after the loss. Offer to run errands, or to tell others the sad news. Teabags, coffee, milk, bread and biscuits left on a bereaved neighbour’s doorstep with a note, can mean so much.
  2. If you don’t know what to say, just be there. If you have no words, say so.
  3. Try to be comfortable with their tears. So many grieving people censor themselves to protect others.
  4. You don’t know how they feel. Much better to say that you can’t begin to imagine how they feel.
  5. They don’t need to hear of your past losses right now.
  6. Phrases like “They’re no longer in pain”, or “they had a good innings” are not yours to say.
  7. Grief changes over time, and the rawness lasts far longer than many people think. Be the friend who remains ready to listen long after others have faded away.
  8. As the weeks and months tick by, they may need encouragement to get back into the world. Gently invite them to join in things, but don’t push if they’re not ready.
  9. Anniversaries are important, particularly the first anniversary. People really appreciate those who remember.
  10. Grief never goes away, even though for most of us it gets easier. Months or years later, most people appreciate being invited to recall the person they have lost, even if it brings back a few tears.

Founded in 2016 and based on the York St John University campus on Lord Mayor’s Walk in York, the York St John Communities Centre is a hub of counselling, coaching and mental health services for the public. The Centre also offers free groups, drop-ins, and community projects such as our Community Language School.

Booking for the Better Together Café

More about York St John Communities Centre

More about Grief Awareness Week 2023