Christmas and the festive season is meant to be a time full of joy and the gathering of family and friends. However, for many people it’s a sad and painful reminder of the death of a loved one and can exacerbate their feelings of loss and loneliness.
While it may feel like a hard task, it can make a huge amount of difference to someone you know who is grieving when you support them and acknowledge how difficult this time of year is.
While you can often feel like you might magnify someone’s pain by talking about their loss, it may be more hurtful if you don’t reach out at all. Send a text message, phone them and ask them how they’re feeling at this time of year and acknowledge their loss. Letting someone know you care can go a long way in helping them feel less isolated and can make all the difference to someone who is hurting.
It can be hard for someone who is grieving to open up and express how they’re really feeling during the Christmas period. Should they trust you with this conversation, be sure to listen. Don’t interrupt, don’t make comparisons, don’t provide advice or offer positive platitudes. Your job is purely to listen and acknowledge the pain they are feeling.
Support their choices.
Anyone who is grieving will have their own way of coping through the festive period. They may not wish to put up a Christmas tree, participate in Christmas events, perhaps they’ve decided to skip the day all together! Don’t be concerned or disappointed, things may change in the years to come, but for now, support them in their choices.
Don’t force them to feel happy.
When you’re supporting someone who is coping with loss, it’s important to allow them to feel whatever it is they’re feeling. If they’re not feeling the Christmas cheer and spirit, accept it, and allow yourself to be a safe space for them to talk honestly and openly about their feelings with you.
Practical help can take place in all different kinds of ways. Be specific in what you think you can help with versus saying ‘let me know if you need anything’. It could be offering to help wrap their gifts, helping them prepare for any festive meals, taking their children off their hands so they can have space and time to rest, cleaning their home or taking over a meal.
Christmas can be a lonely time of year for some, so be sure to extend an invitation to Christmas events. While they may choose to not accept, for whatever the reason that may be, that’s okay. It’s a thoughtful gesture to let them know you are thinking of them and want to include them.
Don’t avoid talking about the person who died.
It’s important to keep the memory of the person who died alive. Share favourite memories, stories and anecdotes of them and let the person know who is missing them, the impact they had on you. Alternatively offering a special toast to them on Christmas day can often go a long way in acknowledging the absence of them and their importance.
Send them a thoughtful gift or card.
The simple gesture of a thoughtful Christmas card or gift can bring some joy to a person who is grieving. It let’s them know you haven’t forgotten them. A thoughtful gift might be a decoration in memory of their loved one, a meaningful book, a self-care package, or a donation to a cause they care about.
Remember grief is ongoing.
Often after the death of a loved one, the first year will see people sending their love and support for the Christmas period. As time goes on however, many will feel like the person who is grieving should be ‘over it’ or is feeling better. It’s important to keep in mind that grief is an ongoing journey and Christmas can still be a painful time. Provide them with ongoing kindness, support and love, it truly means so much.
Image: Joshua Seong