How to Help Someone Grieving in the Holiday Season

Some people try to fake their way through. Others withdraw, sitting out the holidays in silence. For those grieving the death of a loved one, either recent or still tender to the touch, holiday time can be particularly painful. Even those able to take solace from friends and family can face poignant, difficult reminders of their loved one’s absence on special days and may need added support and understanding to get through.

How You Can Help

When someone is grieving, a little understanding can go a long way. According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), one of the most meaningful ways to provide solace is to let the person know you are there for him and that his loved one has not been forgotten. Often, when someone has died, we feel uncomfortable and don’t know what to say to those left behind. Acknowledging someone’s pain with a simple “I am here for you” can provide gentle comfort. Remembering the deceased and talking about times you had together and their attributes is also very powerful.  

If someone you know is struggling with feelings of loss, other tips recommended by NHPCO that can help include:      

  • Let them decide how they’ll face the day – Some people wish to immerse themselves in beloved, holiday traditions. Others will want to start over, creating new ways of doing things devoid of painful reminders. Let the person grieving take the lead. Neither way is better than the other.
  • Offer to lend a hand – Holiday prep is hard work. Be there to help with the cooking, shopping, decorating or stamp licking. If the person who died was the one who decorated the house, dressed up as Santa or cooked the turkey, offer to take those tasks on, instead.  Let your knowledge of the person guide how you handle this. Sometimes, the person who needs the most help is the one least likely to accept it readily. It may be better to show up rather than make a verbal offer you know won’t be accepted.
  • Open your home as well as your heart – Invite the person to share the holiday with you and yours, or to attend a festive event, such as a holiday concert, party or prayer service. 
  • Support them to support others – The holidays present a good opportunity to get involved in volunteerism. Working on behalf of those with less can be fulfilling and healing.
  • Help them stay involved – Getting dressed each day and going back to work, resuming hobbies and maintaining a schedule can help soften grief’s sharp edges. Encourage the person to get back into the swing of their lives as soon as it is appropriate.
  • Recognize that grief has no timetable – Losing someone close to you can change you forever. Even if you feel that the person should be farther along in the process, keep that sentiment close to your vest and instead, work helping them create future activities and events to look forward to.

 It’s understandable that someone in mourning will want to be alone sometimes, but deep loneliness may not be far behind. Phone calls, visits and letters, written with love, are all good ways to stay connected. Being there for someone who is mourning, speaking fondly of the person they lost and letting them know how important they are to you will help them heal, get through, and create a life worth living, day by day.