Holidays are not always merry and bright...it’s not the most wonderful time of the year for someone who is grieving for the loss of a loved one. Going through a dark season is extremely difficult and what you do or don’t do will definitely have a great impact in their lives. You can express your love and support in different ways.
1. Love in Action
This is the season of love and giving. Many times we do things just because it is part of our tradition or it feels good. How about thinking of ways to add a personal touch and extra effort to demonstrate our love especially to those who are grieving during holidays? Instead of a superficial greeting “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” show your love through actions. You can drop off a meal or create a meal train and encourage others to sign up, leave a present at the door, write an email or send a card, bless them financially, plan a prayer time, do a quick visit (check with them first if it’s okay), hug them and cry with them, drop off some groceries, clean their backyard, etc. If you are sending a card make sure you mention the name of their lost loved one because he/she is still part of their family.
Don’t just say “Let me know if I can do anything” or “Let me know if you need something” but really DO SOMETHING. It can be something small but it will mean a lot because they will remember not the words that you’ve said but how you expressed your love to them. Love in action is more powerful than mere words.
2. Words are Powerful
Words are very powerful! Oftentimes, people mean well but sometimes words can hurt rather than help someone. Be very careful and choose your words. Even if our motive is to encourage those who are grieving, don't assume that they can “see the good out of a bad situation” or that they can just “look on the brighter side” during these trying times.
If someone lost a child, avoid saying these things to them: “At least you get a chance to be with him/her”, “You can try to have a baby again next year”, “Well, at least you still have another child to enjoy”, “At least you still have each other”, “ You are lucky you get the chance to carry a baby”. You don’t know what process they've been through or what struggles they had to have a child, so don’t make it seem like having a baby is just as easy as 123.
For someone who lost a family member, avoid saying these insensitive comments: “Be strong for your mom (or whoever passed on),” or “They’re in a better place,” or “At least you still have your siblings,” or “Count your blessings.” These expressions minimize the gravity of the loss. They are aware of the blessings, the supportive spouse or family members that are still around them, but those “blessings” will not minimize the grief that they are coping with.
Choose empathy instead of sympathy. Choose words that will bring a little light to them. Words that will make them feel that you are there for them and with them. Expressions like “I’m so sorry you’re hurting,” or “I am here for you,” or “I may not understand the magnitude of the pain you’re suffering with your loss, but I’m thinking of you,” or “This might not be your best holidays but I am thinking of you,” or “I am praying for you,” or “I love you and I’m here for you,” or “I don’t know the magnitude of pain that you are going through but my heart is breaking, I am mourning with you.”
Use words to let them know that you GENUINELY hurt with them. In this way, you are creating a picture of you holding their hands as they go through pain. This also creates an atmosphere of “not being alone,” particularly in those down times.
3. Healing Takes Time
Holidays mostly involve gathering with family and friends. Social situations can be so hard for grieving people. They don’t want to pretend they’re okay (because honestly they are not) and they don’t want to be a “Debbie Downer” (bring down the mood for everyone), so respect their decision if they choose not to be around people during these times.
The grieving process is different for everyone. It doesn’t have a timeline, so let them grieve. Let them mourn for their loss. Let them express their grief in their own time and in their own ways.
Be available to listen to them. They will not open their hearts to everyone, but if they open up to you, respond in a very timely manner. Don’t wait for a week or a month to let them know that you are sorry for their loss. Their world stopped the moment they lost their loved one, and letting you know what happened means they want to reach out to you specifically. “Busyness” is not an acceptable excuse. They choose to connect with you for a specific reason, don’t miss the opportunity to minister. At the very least, send them a text message or a phone call to let them know you have received their message. They may not respond right away, but they know you’ve been informed.
Speaking of phone calls, grieving individuals will most likely not pick up the phone, because they find comfort in seclusion. If they don’t pick up the phone, send them a text message or a private message. They will read it when they are ready. Your message will create a slash in their own bubble, and it will be a reminder that someone shares their burden.
Please...please...please....Avoid saying “get over it!”, “move on!” Losing someone creates a big hole in someone’s heart. Filling that up with something will not be a walk in the park. Loss is a very powerful trauma that takes somebody’s will. The idea of “moving on” with their lives is counter intuitive and places themselves in an endless “tug-of-war” game with reality and comfort. On one side, it’s reality telling them to live on, but that reality also forces them to accept what has happened. On the other side is the memory; denying everything that transpired is a part of it and that gives them comfort, at least for a time. Swinging in either direction is part of the process, so telling someone to “get over it” or “just move on” only adds fuel to the fire. They know, for a fact, that their lives will never be the same; loss changes it forever. They know deep in their hearts someone’s missing, and that feeling will forever be a part of their year’s holiday moments and throughout their lifetime. Nobody can “move on” from grief but one day there’s a hope that they can MOVE FORWARD to live a new life with pain of loss integrated in their lives. It is also noteworthy to know that breakdown moments will happen, and that’s part of it. When that happens try to be there for them.
Healing takes time… a lot of time!
The truth be told! This holiday season, not everyone is looking forward to the celebrations. This may not be the merriest time of the year, because it is a painful reminder that someone is missing. This can be the saddest, loneliest, and heartbreaking season; so reach out to them.
The pain of losing someone will never go away, but you can do something to make someone’s day a little brighter. Your actions can bring light and hope.
Written by: Anjilou & Angel Flores