There is a good chance that you know someone who is facing the imminent holiday with impending dread. It’s hard to know what to say to a friend who is grieving, and the holidays can be a particularly difficult time to face. For a while, grief manages us until we can manage grief, so there is no cookie-cutter way to approach it. But there are ways to offer support that can be helpful and respectful.
The main thing is just to be present. Sometimes there are no words, and that’s okay. The best thing to do is let the bereaved person know that you are available for them. They may not want to talk, or they may want to talk a lot. The best thing you can do is listen more and talk less. Take your cue from the person you are trying to help.
Don’t assume things. Ask.
Perhaps they need some help with shopping or wrapping gifts. Maybe they want to ignore the holiday altogether. Find out what they want and go from there.
Make sure to include your friend in your holiday plans. Invite them to come to dinner or to sleep over. They may not take you up on the offer but make it anyway. If they want to be alone, ask if they would be like you to make some meals. That way they don’t have to think about making food but might be more inclined to eat if it was already available and easy to take out of the freezer and heat up.
While there are things you can do to be helpful, there are also things not to do. For instance, don’t avoid the subject; don’t think that saying the dead person’s name will be upsetting and avoid it. Talk about the person, share stories, ask questions about their life.
Yes, there will be sadness. And they will always miss their loved ones, maybe more so during the holidays. But knowing that there is support and love will help soften it a bit.
Remember that no kindness is too small.
(For more resources on handling Holiday Grief search our website)
Kelley Edwards is a freelance writer based out of Halifax Nova Scotia. She has a love of bad cats and good coffee.