December can bring many different emotions. Most of us equate the season with a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and the fa-la-la-la-la of friends and family, gathering to celebrate traditions. But for some, this season will bring deep sadness as they cope with loss or grief. No matter what’s going on around them, they don’t feel like having fun. Like my friend whose husband died, unexpectedly, Thanksgiving week at the age of 56, or the young woman who confided, yesterday, she’d just had a miscarriage. Or my two friends who’ve gone through divorces this past year. For these and countless others, the holidays will not be merry and bright, and January can’t come soon enough.
During this time of year how can those of us who have “normal” lives support those who’re grieving, and what do we say?
Here are a few tips:
- Be authentic and express your heartfelt condolences. If you don’t know what to say, just say, “I don’t have the perfect words, but please know I’m so sad for you, and I’m here for you.” Then just listen. Hospice professionals say active listening from friends and family is an important step in helping someone heal.
- Don’t say, “It will be okay.” This year it may not, but give them hope that someday they will enjoy the holidays again.
- Allow them to cry or express anger, and don’t feel like you have to “fix things.”
- Check in often with a phone call, card, even a text message, especially in the evenings when loneliness sets in. Let the person know you’re thinking of them and are there if they need you.
- Offer to help with decorating, shopping, cooking or cleaning, which can be overwhelming even under normal circumstances.
- Invite them out for a diversion, like a spa day, lunch, a movie or a walk. Allow them to decline with no pressure.
- Encourage them to focus on self-care. Remind them to get enough rest and exercise and to eat well. If they need a break from children or relatives, offer an opportunity for a nap or a good night’s sleep. Keep them away from too much alcohol, which can be a depressant.
If you have experienced loss or grief over the holidays, what were the best ways you coped? What actions of your friends did you appreciate most? Please share your best tips so we can support those we love.