Volunteerism: Service as Grief Support

“Something very beautiful happens to people when their world has fallen apart: a humility, a nobility, a higher intelligence emerges at just the point when our knees hit the floor.” – Marianne Williamson

I’ve been running laurelbox now for almost six years, and time after time, it has never failed – there is something about going through significant loss that softens hearts. As much as I wish it was not true, nothing teaches compassion and empathy quite as well as significant loss and hardship. 

But here is the reality about grief – it is a long and painful process. During that process, there may very well be seasons where you struggle with resentment, anger, and bitterness. In fact, that type of reaction is SO normal. I personally went through a season where I felt intensely angry every time I saw a happy family with small children. I fumed with jealousy, and hated seeing baby dedications, pregnancy announcements, and hearing about the ins and outs of life with small children. 

I have friends who have lost parents, siblings, and friends who share the same feelings. It is really normal to struggle when you see others living the life you wished for yourself. Maybe you feel angry at your faith, at your family, or at your friends. If this is the stage you are in, give yourself so much grace. You are allowed to struggle and take the time that you need. 

In other seasons of grief, however, many people find comfort in giving to others through volunteerism. Volunteerism can be immensely helpful to grieving people, giving them purpose, vision, and helping them connect with other grievers. 

Volunteerism in Grief

The acts of selfless giving that I have seen grieving people give to others sometimes stops me in my tracks. I have seen countless bereaved mothers spend months donating pumped breast milk to at risk infants in the NICU. Other mothers have organized online auctions in honor of their child to build and staff orphanages around the globe. Some women have organized pay-it-forward events in honor or their loved ones, fun runs to support a charity that their spouse loved, or donations in lieu of flowers to a nonprofit. All of these beautiful ideas, no matter how large or small, are amazing acts of kindness and resilience. 

What Volunteerism Can Do for You

Interestingly enough, scientists have also studied the effects that volunteerism can have on mental health. As mentioned in “Is Volunteering a Public Health Intervention?” volunteering can make a big difference for your mental health (which is really a huge deal when you are grieving!). Cohort studies showed volunteering had favorable effects on depression, life satisfaction, wellbeing.” While there are not clear links to physical health, it is clear that volunteerism provides significant emotional improvement. (1) 

Another study by the United Way concludes that volunteering can help you manage stress. Anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one knows that managing the preparations of a funeral, an estate, or a loved one’s belongings can be immensely stressful. Not only that, but volunteering was proven to help increase feelings of calm and peace, boost energy, and lower stress. “The health impacts of stress are well-documented — physically, mentally, emotionally and behaviorally, too much stress takes a toll. Volunteering helps us to manage stress—the majority of people who have volunteered in the past 12 months say that volunteering has lowered their stress levels.” (2)

Volunteering can Connect you with Community

Volunteering is also a beautiful way to meet and connect with other people who share similar passions and interests. Oftentimes, you can even meet other individuals who have experienced similar losses as you. Spending time with other people who have gone through something similar can help combat feelings of loneliness and hopelessness. 

Have you ever tried using volunteerism to help you cope with your grief? What was your experience like? 


  • Jenkinson, C.E., Dickens, A.P., Jones, K. et al. Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers. BMC Public Health 13, 773 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-13-773
  • The United Way 2013 Health and Volunteering Study at https://www.unitedhealthgroup.com/content/dam/UHG/PDF/2013/UNH-Health-Volunteering-Study.pdf