Ways to help a grieving person during the holidays:

  • Ask if they would like someone to be with them to decorate or cook or whatever they plan to do
  • Include them in your invitations for events
  • Respect their decision to say yes or no to invitations
  • Ask them what their tough days will be
  • Listen to their memories and stories of their loved one and share yours
  • Encourage them to care for themselves
  • Give them permission to lower expectations of themselves
  • Listen, listen, listen

If you are recently bereaved:

  • Accept your grief, it is hard work
  • Give yourself time and space to feel
  • Try not to put so much pressure on yourself–keep it simple
  • Remember, you don’t have to live up to others’ expectations
  • Focus on what you need
  • Choose to keep familiar rituals or to try new ones
  • Take good care of you

The holiday season beginning with Thanksgiving and going through Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year is a stressful time for all people, but particularly for those going through the seasons of grief after the loss of a loved one.

The holidays bring back memories of past holidays and hold much in the way of joyful and sorrowful feelings. Those who have lost a loved one fantasize that everyone else is surrounded by family and friends and is having a wonderful time, while they are feeling alone and miserable. This fantasy keeps them from creating their own plans or asking others to spend time with them in ways that will be helpful to them.

If you know of someone who has lost a loved one, the coming holiday season is the time to reach out to that person or family. Ask what they are doing, invite them to dinners, family gatherings and parties. Do not leave people out assuming it will be too hard on them. Ask them and listen to the response. If being in family gatherings or party gatherings is too difficult, then make sure there are alternatives — visit a special place, go out to dinner with the person, or invite them to spend the night with your family. Listen to them and share memories, both good and bad, that the holidays bring. Ask about the deceased person. Talk with them about the “old times”. Help the person or family in grief to build new rituals and new celebrations.

If you are recently bereaved, try to reach out to friends and family at this time. Tell people when you need to be alone and when you need to be with others. Let them know when you want to talk and when you want to be silent. Friends, new and old, want to help, but generally feel inadequate and don’t know how to help. Tell them if you want to go to a movie or spend the night or if you need to be with someone to wrap a present. You and they will learn a lot from your trying to express your needs.

Accept your grief in this holiday season, do not try to “pretend” it away. This will not be helpful to you or others. The seasons of grief only pass as we live through them and change and grow in them. To resist your grief is to prolong it. Growth can come only through your grief. Your life is different: learning how to cope with this difference constructively is the task for you as a griever both during and after the holidays.

Try not to put so much pressure on yourself to get everything done. If you do not feel like shopping or sending greeting cards or baking or cooking, then admit this to yourself and to family and friends. Find new ways of celebrating this year. You don’t have to live up to others’ or your own expectations. Ask for help in addressing those cards or putting up that tree if that’s what you want, or need. Allowing yourself these feelings and expressing them may be what you need, rather than the added stress and strain of accomplishing a whole list of items. Give yourself the time and space to feel and experience your loss while also sharing it with family and friends as much as possible.

by Elaine Tiller, M.Div.

© Copyright 2008 E.Tiller