Supporting the Grieving Through the Holidays

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You brought the sweaters out from the back of the closet. The menu is all set for Thanksgiving. You have started your shopping for gifts and addressing holiday cards. The chilly air and sounds of the season bring excitement and anticipation…usually. This year, however, someone in your life is suffering from grief. In the midst of the busyness and stress, you know they need your help. What can you do to help alleviate their suffering? Hopefully, these few ideas provide some structure to your support giving. These 10 suggestions apply if you are a family member, partner, friend or business associate.

1. Most importantly, keep in touch.

Make a phone call to check in. A phone call, not a text. Send a card or a box of cookies. These are gestures that help to remind this person of their connection to others. It is a reminder that someone cares about them during this difficult time.

2. Accept you cannot take away their pain.

It can be so hard to watch people we care about suffer. It is natural to want to make them want to feel better. It can be enough to simply be with them during this time. Sitting in silence, offering touch or eye contact are incredibly valuable.

3. Try to plan, if appropriate.

Ask them what they might need and what they might want to have happen at holiday events. Would setting an empty place of honor at the table help? Would sharing memories and anecdotes help? Making a toast? They may or may not know. Offer to let others (i.e., friends, family) know about their needs for the holidays.

4. Include them in holiday activities.

Invite the person to join you and/or your family during the holidays. Invite them to join you for a tradition, service or holiday meal. Do not assume that they want to be by themselves or that it would be too much for them. Also, understand if they say no and do not pressure them to attend.

5. Lend a hand.

Offer to assist in holiday tasks such as shopping for presents, wrapping, or baking. The holidays can be so overwhelming that the person grieving may not know what help is needed. This is being proactive and volunteering is often better than waiting to be asked.

6. Welcome them in social situations.

Perhaps you will see the person in public or at a social gathering. It has probably taken a lot for them to simply get out of the house. Do not be afraid to go up and talk with them. Tell them you are glad to see them. It can help bring positive energy to the conversation. Only ask how they are doing if you are prepared to hear the truth and to support them in that moment. Do not be afraid to bring up the death of this person’s loved one. They are already thinking about them.

7. Share a memory.

It can be especially helpful to talk about the departed loved one, and perhaps share a memory of them. This can be very healing. It can also allow for the expression of their feelings and the processing grief. Similarly, if the situation allows for it, ask about memories of the person and the holidays. The important part for you here is simply to listen.

8. Remember, grief lasts more than a year.

People expect the first holiday after a death of a loved one to be difficult. This means they often get a lot of support. But when the second or third holiday season rolls around, those grieving are often less prepared. Similarly, those in their lives may provide far less support.

9. Donate a gift or money in memory of the person’s loved one.

Remind the person that his or her loved one is not forgotten.

10. Invite them to try out a new activity.

Creating new traditions that were not done with the person who died can be helpful.

There is one thing you can do more than anything else to help someone in grief during the holidays. That is to be supportive and non-judgemental of how they handle the holidays. Their number one focus needs to be themselves during this time. Doing so is a form of self-care, not selfishness, or being inconsiderate. They are to figuring out their new life and new self.

Some may wish to follow traditions; others may choose to avoid customs of the past and do something new. Please allow them to make decisions, many of which may be last minute or may change. They may commit to something but how they feel when they commit and how they feel afterwards. That’s normal.

Last, but not least, give yourself credit for doing what you can to help them through the holidays. Being a support person is not easy, either. So, please take care of yourself during this time also.

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