We are often asked how to best support a grieving loved one especially during the holidays. Here are a few helpful tips:
- No pressure. Don’t put pressure on them to participate in any gatherings. Life is different now and everything feels painful without their loved one.
- Follow their lead. If they can’t commit or say they may spend the holidays elsewhere, understand and respect that they may need a change.
- Invite them anyway. They may say they don’t want to come but invite them anyway. Let them have an option to change their mind rather than feeling like you didn’t mean it.
- Meet them where they are at. Understand that no matter how much glitter, champagne or singing, they may not fully “be” there. Don’t push them to be festive; love them as they are.
- Expect that they may change their mind. If they come and decide they need to leave, let them, while making sure they are okay to do so.
- Honor their loved one. Perhaps they had a favorite dessert or appetizer; make it for them. Or a favorite song or activity; play it for them. Let them know you remember too.
- Show your emotion. Cry WITH them. Give them permission to let it flow. The more comfortable they are in letting it out in your presence the more comfortable they will be to engage in authentic conversation.
- Send the card. You may be wondering how to navigate your annual holiday cards. Send them! Do not take them off of your list because you feel it will hurt them to see your family card. They are hurting anyway but that pain is not due to anything you did. Taking them off of your list and excluding them purposefully, however, will be.
- Don’t take it personally. If you find the card on their table months later, don’t be insulted. It’s the gesture that counts.
- Say their name. Share a favorite memory in your card and let them know that you are missing “John” too.
- Be authentic. If you run into them before or after the holiday, instead of saying “What do you have planned for or how were your holidays?” Just say “I have been thinking of you” and give them a hug. If you don’t make them answer the dreaded question they will appreciate it more than you will ever know.
- Stay. Continue to be there for them. It doesn’t matter if it has been one month or one year. Stay present in their life and be there when they need you.
Remember that there is no “fix” for their grief and that they aren’t looking for you to provide one. They just want the comfort and unconditional love of the people who are closest to them while they try to navigate this painful new reality. Let them know they do not have to do it alone. More importantly, every day can be painful for a griever not just specific events or holidays. Stay by their side for all of it.
Brighter Days Grief Center is a 501(c)(3) serving grieving families in the state of Minnesota. They provide free grief support resources and services to adults, young adults, teenagers and children who are anticipating or who have experienced the death of a beloved family member. Through their many partnerships and gracious donors, they tailor compassionate services for each family member including access to grief and trauma support, legal and financial guidance, peer-based connections and youth/family workshops. Their signature program, Embrace-A-Family, provides financial assistance for basic necessities, academic support and youth/family events and activities. Additionally, they work with schools, communities and organizations to ensure grieving families receive compassionate and appropriate support in all settings. To learn more, visit their website at www.brighterdaysgriefcenter.org