Loving Someone Who is Grieving During the Holidays

Unfortunately for those who have recently experienced loss and are grieving, grief doesn’t take a holiday. Attempting to navigate a world that is celebrating inevitably intensifies the loss experienced for the person who is grieving. Not only is the grieving individual unsure of how to navigate the holidays given their new reality, those who love this individual often feel ill-equipped to help. Often these factors push those who are grieving toward isolation and their loved ones toward inactivity out of fear they will do something wrong.

If someone you love is struggling with grief during this holiday season, there are lots of practical things you can do to help.

Don’t avoid talking about the individual or loss.

It is easy to avoid mentioning Grandpa out of fear that talking about him will upset both Grandma and all the grandchildren. However, for those who are grieving, the loss is constantly on their mind. When it doesn’t feel safe to talk about what they are thinking and feeling, their grief intensifies.

So go ahead–talk about what Grandpa always did during Christmas dinner. While you’re at it, invite others to share their favorite stories and memories of him.

Offer to help your grieving loved one in practical and specific ways.

It is common to say, “Let me know what I can do to help” to those who are grieving. While this sentiment is truly heartfelt, it leaves the burden for making the phone call and request in the hands of someone who is struggling to get through their day. A person who is grieving may not even know how to identify things that others can do for them.

Offer to help in specific and practical ways like, “I have free time this weekend and would love to come over and help you put up your tree.” or “I’m going to drop off a frozen meal for you Thursday night. Would you like chicken, spaghetti or meatloaf?”

Honor your grieving loved one’s loss.

Giving a gift that honors your loved one’s loss shows you care about them and validates their loss as important. Even if the individual who is grieving chooses not to take part in holiday festivities, you can still honor their loss in one of the following ways:

  • Consider giving a gift to a charity in the name of the individual they have lost.
  • Give them a framed photo of a cherished memory you have with the individual they lost.
  • Create something that memorializes the individual such as an ornament, a piece of jewelry or a garden stone.
  • Plant a tree in their honor.

Extend grace to your grieving loved one.

No two people grieve the same, and grief is never a neat, easy process. Individuals who are grieving are managing intense emotions and may not do this effectively all the time. They may be more easily moved to anger or tears and will need you to understand they’re doing their best.

Additionally, some people may want to avoid being alone and demand more of your time than you would like. If this happens, it is important to gently set limits on the time you spend with them while acknowledging how difficult it is to be alone during the holidays.

Alternatively, you may find your loved one isolating and refusing to participate in family activities. It can be easy to just honor their request for isolation and quit asking them to do things. Instead, it’s important to to offer opportunities to participate whenever possible. Just be sure to avoid pressuring them into attending events or participating in activities.

Just as there is no “right” way to grieve, there is no “right” way to support someone who is grieving. Reach out, ask good questions, and remember that doing something—even if you don’t do it exactly right—is better than doing nothing.

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