For most of our loved ones and friends, the holiday season is a time to be merry and bright. There’s joy to be found in the shopping, music, parties, and other rituals we associate with the season. But we also know that for some people in our lives, the holidays bring a somber reminder of those no longer with us, and these several weeks of the year are difficult to endure, no matter if the loss was recent or years ago.
Perhaps you’re not experiencing grief yourself, but a friend or family member is, and you’re not sure what to say or do that will help them continue to heal. We have some advice on how you can provide extra support to those you care about this time of year.
No one who grieves “gets over it”
It might surprise you that your loved one who appeared to be coping with his or her loss well now seems to be taking some steps back in the grieving process. That’s not really the case. Instead, expect that the season — starting as early as right after Halloween, when stores and television commercials suddenly make the winter holidays inescapable — only amplifies the feelings of loss and brings on a feeling a dread.
Touch base and be there
Stay in touch with your loved one. Make regular phone calls, text, send an email, make plans to visit, or send a card. The organization OptionB.org offers a wonderful collection of holiday greeting cards of the non-standard variety you can download. Hearing from you will make the person feel less isolated, and it’s a signal that you are making yourself available when he or she wants or needs you for more than a hello.
One of the best things you can do is simply listen. If your friend or family member wants to talk about the person who died or the emotions around that loss, acknowledge those feelings. You don’t have to know exactly what he or she is going through, and you don’t have to come up with the perfect words for a conversation, but listening is more valuable than you think.
Follow their lead
Be supportive of the way your friend or family member chooses to handle the holidays. Some people who have experienced loss might be adamant about following traditions because they don’t want to change a thing from past celebrations. Others may feel the absence of their loved one more deeply if they stick to tradition and choose to establish new traditions. Still others might want to “cancel” the holidays altogether. That might mean no decorations, no gift shopping, not cooking a fancy meal, or not going to religious services.
Keep in mind there is no right way or wrong way to observe the holidays, but if you sense your friend is struggling with deciding what to do or is open to suggestions, encourage some combination of old and new. Help choose some favorite traditions that the family can continue to enjoy for years to come, and think about ways to create new memories.
Lend a hand
There’s no doubt the holiday season is stressful, even for the most organized and focused among us. For those who are grieving, the stress might be extremely overwhelming. You can help ease the burden by offering to help your friend or family member with holiday tasks, such as decorating, baking, or shopping for gifts and groceries. If he or she has children, an afternoon or evening of free babysitting might be the perfect opportunity to give the person some time alone or run errands she prefers to do herself.
Extend an invitation or two
While the holidays might be less enjoyable for a person who is grieving, your loved one might still appreciate being around people and part of other celebrations. Don’t hesitate to Invite your loved one to your home. If you have your own rituals and traditions, such as volunteering for a charity, invite your friend to come along. Doing something for others might be a nice distraction and give them a new reason to feel good about the season.
Above all, don’t let discomfort or intimidation keep you from connecting with a loved one in grief. All he or she wants to know is that you are there, not discounting their feelings, and also remembering the person they miss so much.