Helping Someone Through Grief During Holidays

In our last newsletter, I talked about how holidays and celebrations can be difficult for someone who is grieving, but I realize there is more to say on the subject. Most of us, at some point, have run into a situation like this: someone we know is grieving during a time of celebration. What we say and how we behave around this person can make it more or less comfortable for them and ultimately, for everyone around them. Here are some thoughts on how to deal with such situations.

According to an online article called The Empty Chair at the Holiday Table by Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D., “the holidays after a recent death highlight the absence and often throw people into confusion. Grieving people know they should ‘move on’ – whatever that means – but aren’t at all sure they want to and don’t know how. Those who care about the person in mourning want to be helpful but are equally confused about how to do it.

The article goes on to suggest that if you are a family member or friend of someone who is grieving you can:

  • Allow the person the right to grieve – Everyone does it differently. Some people want to withdraw from the world and work through their sadness alone. 
  • Take care – If you notice that your family member or friend isn’t eating, getting enough sleep, or functioning well at home and work, don’t ignore it. These are signs that the person is possibly becoming clinically depressed. Invite the person to a meal. Talk to her about the importance of maintaining routines.
  • Plan ahead – Ask the person in mourning what he wants to have happen at family events. How would he like to acknowledge the loss and, at the same time, keep the holiday going for everyone? Some families literally set an empty place at the table and take a moment to share anecdotes about the person who has passed away. Others make a toast to the memories. Still others offer a prayer. Talk together about what will feel best for everyone involved.
  • Offer help – If the grieving person is the one who usually hosts family gatherings, see if someone else can offer to do it this year. If she wants to keep up the tradition, get as many family members as possible to help with the shopping, cooking, cleaning, decorating, and whatever else needs to be done.
  • Talk to the grieving person about the loss – Listen without judgment. Resist giving advice. Just be there.
  • Try out a new activity that was never shared by the person who is gone – It’s helpful to do some things that aren’t shadowed by the fact that the last time we did them, the deceased person shared it.

If you are a friend or family member of someone who is grieving, give them support, love, and concrete assistance. By talking about their loved one and by listening to their stories and feelings, you help reassure them that the sadness may fade but our relationships with people we love never really end.

Many of Evergreen’s services focus on support for people who are having difficulty coping with their grief or are anticipating grief. Support groups for adults, children and teens, as well as one-on-one counselling, can help people adapt when a loved one has died.