As the leaves fall and the weather cools, it’s time to start looking ahead to the holidays – Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas, New Year’s, etc. – all bring expectations of family gatherings, good cheer, and happy moments. It’s easy to get lost in the hustle and wrapped up in your annual traditions like shopping, decorating, gift wrapping, and cooking, but while you’re busy with all the normal things, don’t forget to take a moment to check on those around you that may not be feeling so cheerful. If you have a family member or friend who suffered the loss of a loved one this year, the holidays will be a very different experience for them. Whether they ask for it or not, they’ll likely need some assistance navigating the season. We spoke to a professional and got her advice on how to help a grieving friend during the holidays.
Dr. Pam Perkins is a psychologist and founder of Perkins Counseling & Psychological Services in Wake Forest, North Carolina. With years of experience and a team of specialized clinicians, she helps people from all backgrounds cope with life’s trials and tribulations. Here’s her advice for helping a friend who is grieving during this season.
What to Say to Someone Grieving During the Holidays
The first part of helping is reaching out to the person in mourning. For many of us, it’s also the hardest part as we wonder what to say and how to say it. Perkins suggests just checking in – ask how they’re doing and take your cue from their response. If your friend wants to talk about their deceased loved one or their situation, let them. For many people, talking about it is cathartic and helps a great deal. You’re helping just by listening. Perkins also says that some people really do want to be left alone, and that’s okay, too.
Still, many people may answer, “I’m fine,” because they don’t want to feel like a burden to others. This is where the conversation could be tricky. Perkins tells us the key is “to be able to just ask the question, listen to the answer, but maybe not always take it at face value. You know, instead of listening with your ears, maybe listen with your heart.” She explains, “they may say they’re fine and they don’t need anything, but maybe you notice something that they could use,” like a meal, or if they have younger kids, you can offer to watch them for a while so your friend can have some time to take care of their own needs. Perkins says, “the biggest thing is just not to be afraid to talk to people and talk about the loss,” because so many people are afraid to even approach the subject.
Another point Perkins makes about how to help someone grieving at Christmas is to “check in frequently, because right after a funeral, and especially if someone passes away unexpectedly or when they’re younger, it’s really traumatizing, and everybody’s right there at the funeral and right after the funeral, but the pain and loss don’t go away.” When the funeral is over, she adds, that’s when those who attended “start getting back to their own lives, so just being consistent, especially if it’s a good friend or someone you know relatively well – to be able to just stay in touch and see how they’re doing,” will mean so much to that person.
You may also want to let your friend know they’re in your thoughts with a heartfelt comfort gift. You could choose a personalized memorial ornament or wooden picture frame to acknowledge their departed loved one’s absence during the holidays. Or choose from a variety of thoughtful memorial gifts to honor their loss in a respectful way.
Whether you choose to show your support of a grieving friend during the holidays by listening to their thoughts and feelings, helping with their household tasks, watching their children to give them a break, or sending a memorial gift, your actions will reflect the true meaning of the holidays by showing your concern and love when they need it most.