Amid all of the decorations, cheer, and Christmas jingles, many people are fighting a secret battle: grief. They suffer in silence, fighting depression and overpowering sadness. Keeping on a brave face and making it through the day is difficult enough without facing overwhelming holiday festivities.
Whether it’s grief over the passing of a loved one, a feeling of hopelessness after losing a job, or isolation from family, the holiday season can be intensely difficult for some. And because so many friends and family members don’t know how to help — or are afraid of making it worse — they often go without support.
If you have a friend or relative struggling with grief this holiday season, here’s what you can do to help.
Too often, we don’t know what to say to loved ones going through a rough time, so we say nothing at all. The people who are grieving can feel abandoned and alone, because no one reaches out.
You don’t have to be eloquent to extend a hand. Call, or send a text or email to:
- Let them know you’re there: Simply calling someone and saying “I’m sorry you’re going through this” is a great first step. It lets them know that you care and are there for them.
- Share memories: The holidays can inspire feelings of nostalgia, which can bring up all sorts of memories. When talking with your loved one, they might want to talk about the deceased or the past you have together. Sharing your own memories of their loved one can help them through a tough time.
- Include them: People often feel awkward inviting someone who is grieving, as they don’t want to make them feel obligated to come when they’re hurting. But excluding them from holiday party invitations can make them feel isolated. Instead, send them an invitation to Christmas dinner or a New Year’s Eve party, but follow up with them by phone to tell them they should do what they’re comfortable doing. And, if the loved one was the one who handled party preparations and cooking, your invitation helps them with the practical logistics, too.
Offer real help
Often, we say things like “let me know if you need anything.” We may genuinely mean it, but because it’s so vague, your friend or relative may never take you up on it. Instead, offer concrete examples of help, such as dropping off the fixings for Christmas dinner, making gingerbread cookies, driving them to go Christmas shopping, or reviewing their resume and helping them set goals for the new year.
Giving specific examples of ways you can help makes it easier for them to accept the help they really need.
Give the gift of time
When someone is grieving or depressed, keeping up with daily chores can be exhausting and mentally and physically draining. One of the kindest things you can do for someone struggling is to use some of your holiday vacation days to give them the gift of time to mourn or recover without having to keep up appearances.
If you have a friend who is going through a rough time, offer to pick up groceries for her so she doesn’t have to go to the store. Or if she has children, offer to watch them for a few hours so she can rest. You can take the children to see Santa at the mall, or you can help wrap presents. Having a short break once in awhile can make a world of difference.
If their loved one was the one who put up the Christmas lights or decorated for the holiday, they might feel lost this holiday season. Offering to help with the lights or picking up a wreath can help prevent them from feeling overwhelmed.
Help them find support
Although you can offer assistance and help them with what they’re struggling with, your loved one can’t solely rely on you for support. If the grieving process isn’t getting better, or if they find themselves unable to handle essential daily tasks, it might be a good idea to help them find professional assistance or a support group.
Grief Share is an organization dedicated to helping people survive the grieving process through group conversations. You can find meetings all over the country.
They may also find comfort in participating in a Blue Christmas service. Held on or around December 21 — the longest night of the year — these services are specifically designed for those who have suffered a loss. It’s a spiritual way to connect with others and manage grief. Churches of all denominations hold Blue Christmas services, so call your church’s office to find out if they are holding this special service.
If your loved one is struggling to manage depression after a loss, you can contact NAMI for recommendations on where to find support groups near you and mental health professionals who can help them.
The holidays can be extremely hard on anyone handling grief or loss. Offering your help and letting them know you’re there for them can give them the support they need to get through the season.
Originally published on December 7, 2017.