Helping a Grieving Friend During the Holidays
The holidays can be an extremely challenging time of the year for loved ones that have experienced a loss, and unfortunately, time does not cure their heartache. Whether it be the best friend that lost her mother 7 years ago or the cousin who's wife just recently passed, the Christmas season still causes the bereaved to struggle. On top of the grief is the common situation most people find themselves in; loneliness.
Friends, and even family members, tend to leave their loved one alone during this time of the year. They either don't know what to say, don't know what to do, or believe that they just need space so they can grieve the way they want to... and let's be honest, some people just don't want to reach out. However, if you are here reading this article, you obviously care enough to try and reach out to your loved one and be there for them during this challenging season.
It's completely normal to not know how to help someone who is grieving during the holidays; after all, we were never trained by grief counselors. For that reason, we thought it was important to make this list of the most impactful things a person can do to be there for the bereaved. Remember, these are all just suggestions - every one is different, so they might not apply as a whole to your loved one. However, you can pick and choose which ones you believe would work or use them as a starting point for your own idea.
#1 - IT'S OKAY TO NOT KNOW WHAT TO SAY; JUST BE THERE
The first step in helping your loved one is just reaching out to them. Whether you send a text message or call them over the phone (we recommend the phone call), that act, though small to you, will mean the world to them. Now you are probably wondering "What do I say? What can I say that will help them?". It's completely normal to not know what to say to someone in grief, especially during the holidays. It is a season of cheer after all, and this situation couldn't be more opposite of what you typically experience this time of year.
The best thing you can do is just be honest with them - tell them you are at a loss for words, but that you wanted to reach out to talk with them and hear what's on their mind, no matter what it is. Tell them you are here to listen. They have most likely heard dozens of the "They're in a better place now"s and the "They are no longer hurting"s, and have been hoping for someone to call just to talk.
Now that the hard part is out of the way, let's move on to the conversation topics. This one is a tad tricky, but simple if you pay attention to your loved one; follow their lead. You should be able to tell from what they say and the tone they say it in to determine what topics you should discuss, including whether bringing up the deceased is an appropriate idea. Here's a fun fact: for most people, it would be completely appropriate. People in grief love to talk about the memories they shared with their loved one who passed, but sadly don't get the opportunity to - give them that opportunity.
#2 - SUPPORT THEIR HOLIDAY DECISIONS
After reaching out to your loved one, you may discover how they decide to spend this year's holiday season. Remember that they are going through a very difficult time, most likely the most difficult time they have ever, or will ever, face. Do not step in if they choose to completely change how they are going to spend the next few months. Whatever they do is being done so they can cope with their grief in their own way. If you are to do anything, we suggest that you follow their lead and not overstep. Just because they are changing what they are doing for the holiday season does not mean they are in a dangerous place, nor does it mean they will do this for every holiday in the future. Embrace them, love them, and accept their choices.
#3 - MAKE SMALL GESTURES
Acts of kindness have always been a tried-and-true method of putting a smile on someone else's face. Whether it be delivering a meal, offering to help with some of their house chores, or sending them an early Christmas present in the form of Christmas Carolers, making small gestures of love could help uplift a grieving person. If you do not have the ability to send a gift or travel to their house, we recommend at least making a habit of reaching out to the person to check in on them.
We want to stress that we said small gestures - anything that can greatly interrupt or intrude on the grieving person's life is not recommended, especially if done without their knowledge of approval. For instance, do not force them to go out to a dinner, even if you are paying for the entire meal. If they do not want something or to go somewhere, do not force them.
#4 - INVITE THEM OUT
Most people grieving a loss would stay home if someone did not invite them out. Their minds are too occupied, so unless another person reached out to them, they're not going to take part in any activities. Some people, even with an invite, would still stay home, but those individuals still care that they were considered.
There are tons of holiday festivities that go on in almost every city across the country that you can invite your loved one to, including Christmas light parades, the opening of ice skating rinks, and holiday plays. You could also drive through nearby neighborhoods and look at decorated homes, go Christmas shopping, or simply invite them over for a Christmas dinner (even if it is before Christmas).
In your invite, make sure to inform them of what the event is, where it is, and how long it will be so they are fully prepared and can also acknowledge any potential reason that may be too much for them to handle. Also be understanding if they decline your invite, or even cancel last-minute. Do not take this personal because, even though you may be happy and full of excitement, they are experiencing the most difficult situation they have ever been in.
#5 - CONTINUE OLD TRADITIONS OR BEGIN NEW ONES
Most families have annual traditions that are held during the holiday season. One of our employees here at Corey-Kerlin Funeral Home in Jacksonville spends the weekend before Christmas looking at decorated homes and then visits St. Augustine’s Night of Lights with their partner. Another employee builds gingerbread houses with their partner and their children, enjoying the night with laughter, joy, and love.
Someone who has lost someone has not only lost that person, but they have lost the things and rituals they shared. They are probably reminiscing those traditions that they once upheld and wish they were here to continue them. Though you cannot bring that person back, you can talk to the bereaved and discuss if they would like to continue those traditions with you or begin new ones to look forward to every year. Though the conversation may seem awkward or uncomfortable to have, the grieving person could be ecstatic to have it. As we see past traditions as something to end because the deceased is no longer there, the bereaved may see it as something they want to continue in honor of their loved one or as a way to remember them.