Grief at holiday time can be the most difficult grief of all. Someone mourning the loss of a loved one may struggle to join in the merriment, be overcome by memories of holidays past or try to block out or avoid the celebrations altogether.
It’s natural that friends and family want to step in to provide love and support, but just how you do that is important. Don’t think that you need to fill the person’s every moment with holiday festivities. Grieving can be both physically and emotionally exhausting. They simply may not have the energy to handle all that celebrating.
I speak from experience. I was inspired to help others through life’s roughest moments after my 15-year-old daughter Aly died in a car accident in 2009. In 2015, I launched the Grief Diaries, a 16-volume series of books filled with true stories by people who have experienced loss and heartache, and want to offer comfort and hope to those facing similar challenges.
During the holiday season, you can best provide support to the bereaved if you:
- Don’t force your agenda on them. Allow the bereaved to set the tone for how they wish to cope with the holidays. Honor their choices. Whether they wish to maintain their normal holiday routine, leave town or ignore the holidays entirely, resist the urge to pressure them to handle the holidays your way.
- Don’t avoid them. Your absence will be noticed more than you think. If the griever asks to be left alone, honor their wishes if it’s safe to do so. Otherwise, include them in the festivities and treat them as you would any other significantly injured guest — with kindness, compassion and gentleness.
- Don’t pretend nothing has happened in their life. That only creates the elephant in the room, and invalidates their sorrow. But don’t awkwardly coddle them either. Again, simply treat them with kindness, compassion and gentleness while reminding yourself that you can’t fix their pain.
- Invite them to help you serve meals at local shelters. Serving those who are less fortunate is a wonderful reminder that we aren’t alone in our struggles.
- Remember to take care of yourself. If you live or work with the bereaved, their sorrow can quickly deplete your own happiness. Give yourself permission to take time to enjoy the festivities. If you live with the griever, then carve out ways that allow you to celebrate in private. Even small ways can help, such as indulging in a favorite holiday treat or enjoying a night out with friends.
If you think you can’t make much of a difference, I always like to remind people how the power of one moment can change someone’s world. One smile can change a person’s mood. One hug can change their day. That’s everything to someone in mourning.