6 Ways to Support Grieving Friends and Family During the Holidays

The holidays can be a difficult time when someone has lost a loved one. Learn how to support friends and family dealing with holiday grief.

‘Tis the season to be merry, but for someone who is grieving, the holidays are burdened with emotions. Of all the holidays in a year, few induce as many thoughts and feelings as those that begin on Thanksgiving and end on New Year’s Day. Holiday grief can be overwhelming in these times.

Families who are grieving the death of a loved one are bombarded with photos of families and friends gathering around a warm meal, opening presents together or celebrating with one another through the New Year. These verbal and visual cues imply that everyone comes from a happy, close-knit and lively family, untouched by ravages of grief. Other seasonal cues, including the sight of fall foliage or holiday-themed scents may trigger memories and emotions associated with past holidays spent with dear, departed family members or friends.

If You Are Supporting Someone Who Is Coping With Holiday Grief, Follow These Suggestions.

6.) Understand That People React in Different Ways

People deal with holiday grief in different ways

Some people may want the closeness of friends at times and need space at other times when they are dealing with grief. Invite the person to social events and allow them to change their mind at the last minute.

Never try to force someone who is grieving to go out and have fun, but it never hurts to keep the invitations coming, unless they personally ask you to stop. Remember that, in some cases, someone who is grieving might not have the energy to be social. The holiday grief in particular can make events harder to attend. Invite your loved one to the movies, your house, a favorite restaurant or another friendly place, but let the person know that it is acceptable to decline your offer.

Even if your offer is declined, a single invitation can go far. By extending an offer to someone that is grieving, you show that person that you are not scared off or threatened by their grief. Inviting someone to activities shows them that you believe they are going to be okay and that you want to spend time with them.

5.) Start the Conversation

remembering loved ones can help with holiday grief

Use the name of the person who has died and share your 
memories with them. When sharing memories of a recently deceased loved one, remember that it is okay to cry. Telling yourself not to cry and trying to hold back your emotions will make things much harder for you and the person that you are communicating with.

Being able to say the name of the deceased loved one establishes remembrance, which can be a key component in the healing process. Being able to say the deceased family member’s name gives you the ability to share the fond memories that you got to enjoy with them. Not being able to share these memories can take away from your own happiness, making the healing process harder.

4.) Make a Donation in Memory of the Person Who Died

A donation can help when dealing with grief

Making a donation in memory of someone that has died can help a family or loved one in many different ways. A donation to the family is another way of showing your support.

You can donate as much money as you feel comfortable giving. Remember, it is not the amount of money that matters to the family. What matters is that you are thinking about them in the long run. These donations can be made out to a specific charity, your favorite cause or to the family of the recently departed.

When a terminal illness causes death, money can be donated to help conduct research on that specific illness or to provide care for those still suffering from that illness. Alternatively, you could donate to a cause that was important to the deceased loved one.

Death in a family can come with a financial load. Funerals, flowers, limousines and other funeral costs can be expensive. These costs can be especially difficult if the death is unexpected. Getting treatment for the deceased family member could have been extremely costly. Simply writing a check, putting money in a card or offering to pay for some of the funeral expenses can help a grieving family with their financial troubles.

A thoughtful donation while a family is coping with losing their loved one and the holiday grief that comes up during the season can help people heal.

3.) Be With the Person Who Is Grieving During Holiday Activities

holiday grief can come up when wrapping gifts

Kira auf der Heide / Unsplash

Holiday activities like writing letters, wrapping presents or addressing holiday cards can be difficult when a person is dealing with grief. Sitting with someone who is grieving while they are performing any activity shows that you are present.

Grief tends to be a very isolating experience. Remember that your actions speak louder than words. Your presence shows the grieving person that you are aware of how difficult their experience is and that you will not let them go through this alone.

2.) Offer a Listening Ear

listening can help ease holiday grief

You aren’t expected to say any magic words that will make them feel all better. Being a listening ear can significantly help someone who is grieving.

Let them know that you are there to listen when they are ready to talk. Those that are grieving may want to talk about their feelings some days, and other days they may not. If they want to talk, let them. Try not to force them to talk about how they are feeling. The process of grieving takes time, and they may not be ready to communicate their feelings yet.

If you are not sure what your friend or family member wants to do, don’t be afraid to ask how they need to deal with their holiday grief and not having their loved one at this time. It is better to know exactly how your loved one is feeling than to be intrusive. Learning to pick up on certain cues can help you determine how your grieving friend or family member is feeling at the moment.

Grief can start to make someone irrationally dislike places, people and activities. One can become angry with close friends and family. By being a listening ear, you are allowing your friend to vent. Try not to reason with them or defend those that theyare venting about. Let them vent and move on.

1.) Acknowledge Their Progress

woman dealing with holiday grief by decorating

The period after losing a loved one is a very difficult time in a person’s life. It can be hard to get out of bed, to get dressed and to go to work. Eventually, however, grief becomes easier to bear.

When you start to see progress in the way that your loved one is dealing with grief, tell them. You might be the only person who acknowledges their growth. Let them know how proud you are of them and that you are still there for any support that they need.

Making the Holidays Meaningful When Someone You Love Dies

family time can lessen holiday grief

Although a friend or family member has died, you and your children can still enjoy the holidays with some open communication and advanced planning to deal with the holiday grief as it comes up.

Set an Example

Keep in mind that children look to you as a role model of how to grieve. Try setting the example of it being okay to talk about the loved one who has died or about how you are coping with grief. This may be the social cue that your children are looking for to express their wants and needs during the holiday season.

Prepare in Advance

Advanced preparation for this onslaught of both unpleasant and pleasant thoughts may ease the pain and reduce last minute family conflict or personal pain. Around the time pumpkin patches morph into Christmas tree lots, grieving family members can begin to communicate their misses and wishes for the coming holiday celebrations.

Decide How to Handle Traditions

Recognize the ways in which the holidays will be different simply because their special person who died will no longer be present. Some grieving families enjoy continuing established traditions even without family members who have departed. If, for example, Grandmother always made the pumpkin pie, identify someone who can make her pie recipe. If they are willing, put them in charge of making it this year. Then be sure to acknowledge Grandmother’s absence at the holiday dinner. Even young children can contribute in a toast to remember and honor those loved ones who have died.

Other grieving families may prefer to do things differently, like taking a vacation out of town to avoid reminders of the deceased. Other options might include making holiday donations in honor of the deceased. Delivering baked goods or toys to nursing homes and hospitals is another way to make meaning of your loss by striving to improve the lives or celebrations of those who are in need.

Include Everyone in Decisions

Families may find many good solutions for dealing with holiday grief. These decisions are good as long as everyone’s preferences and feelings are considered. Few would disagree that grieving alone and without support is a sad affair for children and adults alike. Regardless of the plans the family agrees upon, the most important step is including even the youngest children in the decision making process.

Younger children may have a difficult time coping with grief during the holidays and understanding how to express that grief. Include them in decisions to help them adapt.

Make Time for Yourself

You may be trying to support others who are grieving, but don’t neglect your own needs. Be aware of stress relief practices that help when things are difficult, get enough sleep and ask for help if you need it.

Get Professional Help When Needed

holiday grief can be challenging

OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center offers help for those in need during their grieving period. Most grievers make it through this grieving process one day at a time with the help of friends and family. If your grieving loved one is still having a hard time with a death months after the occurrence, this may be a sign that they should seek professional help.

If you believe that your loved one needs help, do some research for them. Find grief counselors and support groups in their area. Pass the information that you find off to them, and offer to support them in any way that they need. Offer specific help with specific needs like watching the kids, giving rides to appointments and going with them to the grocery store. For additional emotional support or guidance, contact OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center. May this holiday season bring you comfort, strength, peace, and hope.