Helping Those Grieving During the Holidays

"Please Come Home for Christmas" by Charlie Brown

Chances are you know someone who is grieving this holiday season. Maybe it’s a loss of a loved one, a person, or pet, but it can also be a loss associated with health, a home, or a difficult change in a family. There are many losses for which we grieve. Grieving a loss is hard every day, but during the holidays it’s especially hard. The emphasis on being with loved ones and family gatherings, holiday celebrations, the memories of past holidays, and even the sentiments of being festive and merry are painful for those grieving loss. The holidays can be anything but happy for a lot of people. After the loss of my husband, Ted, the thought of holidays and especially Christmas can feel overwhelming to me and I want to run far away and wake up in January.

While loss is universal, grief is a very individual journey. Even when family members are grieving the same person, their experience of the loss is unique to them. We can inadvertently add to people’s pain by comparing it, discounting it, “shoulding” it, rationalizing it, or ignoring it. Often we do this with good intentions, as a way to help mitigate their pain, but it’s usually more about our discomfort with grief. It can have the opposite effect, making the grieving person feel even more isolated and alone. Even if you don’t know what to say, it’s okay to say that. Sometimes words are inadequate for expressing our emotions.

Here are some things you can do if you know someone who is grieving:

  • Acknowledge their loss
  • Saying something such as “I’m so sorry for your pain.” Or “I’m thinking of you” Is comforting to someone hurting. You’re not bringing up something difficult. They’re very aware of it.
  • Take your cue from them.
  • Let them know you’re there if they want to talk about it. If they do, don’t try to change the subject or lighten it up, and don’t try to give advice or fix it. Just listen with your heart.
  • Invite them
  • Maybe you bring a meal over. Or you’re going to a restaurant or hosting a gathering, including the grieving person. Let them decide whether they want to go or not. And be understanding if they change their mind at the last minute.

Being present and accepting another’s pain is a priceless gift this holiday season. 

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