Holidays often are difficult for those who grieve the death of a loved one. Truth be told, most would rather avoid the season altogether and disappear until Jan. 2.
We can’t take their grief from them, but we certainly can be more sensitive about unintentionally adding to their pain. Here are a few simple suggestions offered by those who are missing a loved one especially during the holidays.
Instead of sending a happy holiday card, send a “thinking of you” card. Simply sign the card or write one supportive sentence. For example, “I’ll never forget David’s big smile” or “You are in our thoughts and prayers during this holiday season.” If you send a typical holiday card, they may wonder how you can possibly think they can be joyful when their loved one has died.
Be aware that sending your family photo in a card can be very painful for them. The presence of your intact family often magnifies the absence of their family member.
When you invite them to a holiday event, don’t pressure them to attend. It simply may be too difficult for them. Understand if they decline. If they leave earlier than expected, understand they have reached their “being around people” limit and don’t question or pressure them to stay longer.
If they choose to treat the holiday as “just another day,” understand they are doing the best they can just to make it through this time of year. They aren’t in “denial” or “grieving too much,” they are doing what they need to do to take care of themselves.
If they choose to get away for the holidays or start a new tradition, honor their decision. They don’t need the additional stress of well-meaning friends and family acting offended or pressuring them to participate in traditional events. Remember this is about them, not about you.
Trust what they tell you and what they choose to do. Do not pressure them to make a different decision or tell them what you would do if you were in their shoes. Grief is like a thumbprint. It is different for everyone. Allow them the courtesy and right to grieve in their own way. You don’t know what’s best for them, they do.
Do something in memory of their loved one. Buy or make an ornament and give it to them. Make their loved one’s favorite dish or dessert. Or donate to your favorite charity in their memory. Or give them a gift card to their favorite restaurant. You’ll think of something.
“Don’t tell them what you would do if you were in their shoes. You aren’t.”
Don’t tell them what you would do if you were in their shoes. You aren’t. Everyone grieves differently. Even the most well intended advice can be hurtful and may even come across as condescending.
Text or email them to let them know you are thinking about them. Simply saying, “Thinking about you” or “Praying for you” or “Remembering you during the holidays” will be received with gratitude.
Don’t be afraid to say the name of their loved one. You won’t make them sad. They already are sad. What hurts them most is never hearing the name of their loved one again as if they never existed.
Realize that you don’t even have to use words. A gentle hug or a touch on the shoulder says more than you realize.
Holidays are lonely and painful for those who grieve the death of a loved one. Make a commitment to do something to let them know you remember they are still grieving. Just let them know you remember and care. It’s really that simple.
Laurie Taylor serves as executive director of the Grief and Loss Center of North Texas, based in Dallas.
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