What Grieving People Need During the Holidays
I remember the first Thanksgiving without him. The first real holiday we would gather and my husband of 25 years, and father to our three sons would not be there. He died almost 5 months before, and I felt nowhere near ready to face a holiday such as this.
And yet, all around me, life was going on. People were laughing and shopping and baking and cooking and packing and happy. I just wanted to crawl under the covers and disappear until the whole thing passed. I simply felt like I. could. not. deal.
How do you celebrate togetherness when there is none? When you have lost someone you deeply love (especially the way we lost Roger), your world loses its celebratory qualities. Holidays just magnify your loss. The sadness feels sadder and the loneliness goes deeper. There is no doubt the need for support may be greatest during the holidays.
Because I so vividly remember what that first year was like (and if I’m being honest, the 2nd year too), may I share with you a few ways you can help a grieving family member or friend experiencing their first holidays without a loved one?
The following are four (wise) suggestions offered by Larry Barber, a professional grief counselor. I hope it helps you help someone who needs it. And if that someone is you, I hope you’ll do whatever helps you cope best during this Thanksgiving and Christmas season.
1. Grieving people need choices.
Grieving people are somewhere in or near the pit of despair when the holidays come along. Society is not understanding of the everyday needs of grieving people, much less of the special stresses caused by the holidays. Sometimes people expect grieving people to set aside their feelings and “buck up” for the holiday season. But grieving individuals need the choice to:
- Observe the holidays as they have in the past, only with their loved one missing.
- Change the way they observe the holidays
- Merely try to cope to get through the holidays.
Like it or not, life has changed for grieving families. To try to create a holiday celebration like those of the past will only frustrate all involved, and may add additional pain to the broken hearts of the grieving.
2. Grieving people need support.
If a grieving person states that he/she can’t handle the usual holiday stresses, believe them. Then, ask them what they may need from you to help them through the holidays. Very recent losses may demand that holidays be very low-key. Losses which occurred earlier in the year may afford some desire to have a modified celebration. Losses which occurred years ago may lend themselves to a time of remembrance in order to make the deceased a part of the holiday celebration.
3. Grieving people need rituals
Some time may be set aside during the holiday season to especially remember the person who has died. A family may choose to visit the cemetery and decorate the grave for the holiday or simply leave flowers. An individual may set aside time alone just to spend in remembrance of the person who has died by looking at pictures, reading letters or cards, or remembering their life together. Sometimes a place is set at the table for the person who has died in order to include the deceased. Some families might set aside a time to tell favorite stories about the person who has died, or more publicly, place flowers in a church sanctuary in memorial. Honor the need for ritual.
4. Grieving people may need time to themselves.
Sometimes grieving people need and want to be with others, and sometimes they need some time to themselves. When people are grieving, noises may seem louder, they may have trouble concentrating, they may have a low tolerance for crowds. They know what they need and will tell you if they are asked. (Remember to ask.)
Be sure you assess if someone is suicidal before leaving them alone. This may be an uncomfortable subject, but a person may appreciate that you love them enough to ask, “Are you feeling like you may want to hurt yourself?” Grieving people are frequently suicidal, and the pressure of the holidays could increase suicidal thought. You can obtain a promise from a loved one that he/she will be safe through their time alone.
Do What Is Right For Your Soul
Holidays are some of the roughest terrain we navigate after a loss. And the ways we handle them are as individual as we are. If you are grieving this holiday season, I would simply offer this to you: Choose life in all the ways you can. Be among people who offer you support and hope. Do the things that bring you comfort. Know that you will get through the holidays and you will not always feel as you do this year. Most of all, know that the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3) stands ready to offer you his comfort and hope this holiday season:
“I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.” –John 14:18
And may the rest of us remember that so often the comfort God wants to provide others is through us, as we are compassionate, understanding, and supportive of those with heavy, hurting hearts this holiday season, or on any given day.