The holidays are a time that can be difficult for many, especially those who have gone through loss. Some people tend to find the holidays easier because things are so busy, and many are surrounded by friends and family. For others, however, the holidays magnify the pain and loss in their universe.
If you find yourself in the difficult position of trying to support a loved one who is grieving during the holiday season, these suggestions may help you. After all, being there for others is what the holidays are all about — and even if they don't know how to express it, your grieving friend will surely appreciate the support.
1. Surround them with loved ones.
This might sound obvious, but people who have gone through loss might not have the stamina to make plans or be in the mindset to think of holiday celebrations. By including them in plans that are already made, or do not require more of their energy, they can feel included and loved without the burden of hosting or planning. Those environments can help lift their spirits and remind them of those who are still here who love them.
2. Take time during the “busy” to listen.
Making the time to stop and listen during a time of the year where everything is constantly moving is always going to be appreciated. Whether you are allowing them to do the talking, sitting in silence with them, or talking about their loved ones, showing that you have not forgotten their loved one or their loss during this busy time is very supportive.
3. Remember that missing loved ones is a life-long journey.
There is no magical time period when grief ends. Through life, pain can come in waves with or without warning. Creating traditions that include the memory of the loved one during the holidays can be soothing. For example, light a candle honoring their memory and allow it to burn through the day. Go through old photographs together and pick one to put in a new frame. Sit around the table while each person shares a story or a memory. These activities help build a way for them to always be a part of the holiday celebrations.
4. Show them that you care.
Offer to do specific errands, like wrap some of their presents or help with some of their holiday shopping. Many people say, “Let me know if you need anything,” but people in grief will not always reach out to ask for help. Instead, be the one to reach out to them and actually show up. Actions that demonstrate how much you care can be more useful than words alone. Joining them in projects or errands and being present can offer some of the best support.
5. Remember that bouncing from celebration to sadness is normal.
For many people during the holidays, they ride an emotional rollercoaster. There are things that happen that provide a distraction from grief. For some they feel being surrounded by loved ones during the holidays is actually helpful. There are those however who feel guilty celebrating, and feel that having fun reduces the love or memory of the deceased person. So it is not unusual to see a range of emotions. The best thing you can do is be there and understand that this is possible. Most people are not looking for verbal distractions as much as support no matter where they fall on the emotional continuum.
6. Help them catch a breather.
The holidays can be an exhausting time for anyone. In these circumstances, emotional grief and exhaustion can easily be magnified. Try to notice if your loved one is worn down and needs space to recharge their battery. Help them get the space they may need during celebrations to relax, reflect, and have a moment for themselves
There is no singular magical action that helps across all situations, however, one thing that will always help is love. Love is one of the best healing energies. Be there and be present. Make sure it is known you are there for them. No one can fill the hole in their heart, but compassion and support goes a long way in helping through the holidays.
This essay was written by Shelly Fisher, co-author of Breaking Sad: What to Say After Loss, What Not to Say and When to Just Show Up.