How to Help Someone Grieving During the Holidays
Facing grief is one of the most challenging experiences of the human condition. When the holidays approach, grief can become even more difficult to manage. It may be surprising for the bereaved to encounter waves of grief during a significant holiday or milestone, especially if several years have passed since the loss of a loved one. During these difficult moments, there are several things you can do to offer support and comfort to the bereaved.
Embrace the Sadness
The arrival of holidays is inevitable. Nearly every month of the year has some unique milestone or national holiday that impacts our daily lives. When one of those days comes, a person experiencing the loss of a loved one can come face to face with a grief trigger—something that stirs up the memory of a loved one. Whether the loss is recent or several years ago, it’s very common for people to feel sadness in these moments. There’s no timeline for grief. The best way to support someone feeling sad is to encourage them to acknowledge and honor their feelings. If it happens to be sadness, that’s ok. What’s important is that their authentic feelings are validated and supported.
Surrender Solving Their Grief
As a significant holiday approaches, it may be tempting to proactively head it off at the pass. You may feel like you have the power to eliminate a friend or family member’s grief by providing a “great” holiday event or activity, but you don’t. While your intentions to do so are thoughtful, you can’t stop a grief-stricken person from thinking about their lost loved one. For many bereaved individuals, the holiday represents a meaningful moment in the bond they shared with their departed loved ones. It’s best to acknowledge that there is nothing you can do to stop grief in its path. When you surrender the urge to shelter someone from their grief, you allow them to process their experience in a healthy way.
Play Follow the Leader
Engaging with friends and family is important for grief-stricken people; however, they may not be up for it. When creating holiday plans, allow the bereaved to have flexibility. Don’t force them into a situation that makes them uncomfortable. It’s always nice to offer an invitation to be social. Just let them be in control of their own involvement. If the answer is no, accept it with grace and understand that it isn’t necessarily personal. When you honor a person’s decision, you open up the possibility for engagement down the road.
Leave Criticism at the Door
If you happen to visit the bereaved’s home prior to a significant holiday, hold your tongue when it comes to the apparent absence of holiday decorations. Yes, it may be true that the home could use some holiday cheer, but to each their own. While you may think you know what someone is going through, you really don’t. Each encounter with grief is unique. Decorating the home for the holiday may be overwhelming for the bereaved. It may be triggering their grief. Don’t be alarmed. It’s all part of the grief process.
Check In with Them
While inviting a grief-stricken friend to a party or social engagement may be a thoughtful idea, it can be helpful to leave a blank slate and begin by checking in with them. The bereaved may have a different idea about how they prefer to handle the holiday. Ask them what they would like to do and see how you can support them in that endeavor.
Be Mindful of Your Language
Most holidays are centered around the spirit of life and our deep appreciation for all we have to be thankful for. As you celebrate your gratitude, your grief-stricken friend may feel the opposite. All they might be thinking about is the overwhelming loss of their loved one. While you don’t want to walk on eggshells around them, it’s important not to use language that implies their ingratitude for this special occasion. It may come off as a judgment of their feelings or behavior.
Name the Departed
Don’t be afraid to mention the departed. Even though it may feel like you’re upsetting the bereaved by reminding them of their loss, you really aren’t. The loss is never far from their mind. When you name and share stories of the departed, you keep their memory alive. Knowing that the departed impacted your life somehow can be very comforting for the bereaved. It becomes yet another example of the everlasting legacy of the departed.
Note Anticipatory Grief
Typically, grief is experienced after a loved one has passed; however, that isn’t always the case. In many instances, grief can affect people who are enduring the painful experience of witnessing a family member or friend battle a terminal illness. The loss of a loved one, in this instance, comes into sharper focus. While losses are inevitable, this particular one has a collapsing timeline. Anticipatory grief refers to those who are grieving the approaching loss of a loved one. Acknowledge your friend’s situation and reach out to them. See what you can do to support them during this difficult time. The most important thing you can do is be there for them. It isn’t about finding the right words. Just listening can be extremely helpful.
Offer a Tribute
Whether it’s in public or in private, it can be very meaningful to the bereaved if you were to offer a tribute to the departed. For example, invite those gathered to raise a glass to honor those not present. You can also send a thoughtful gift to the bereaved to acknowledge their grief. It may provide some comfort during the holiday. For instance, you can send them a care package or a gift card to their favorite restaurant.
Grief can be a life-long process. While we never get over a loss completely, it is possible to move forward with a rich, fulfilling life. When we offer meaningful support to our bereaved friends and family members, even the holidays can be manageable again.
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