Supporting Someone Who Is Bereaved This Christmas
It is easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of the season. Everywhere we look, there are reminders. Christmas trees, lights, presents. It is hard not to be swept up in the festivities.
For those who have lost someone this year, Christmas can be a particularly hard time. Faced with constant merriment and joyful messages everywhere as a contrast to their grief can be cripplingly lonely. If you know someone who is grieving this season, here is some advice on ways to support them.
When it comes to grief, many people are unsure what to say or afraid of saying the wrong thing to the person who is bereaved. As a result, the person can feel isolated as people are too afraid to speak to them. Whatever you do, don’t avoid talking to the person. Don’t allow fear to stop you from reaching out to them when they are most in need. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but letting them know that you care and that they are not alone during the worst time of their lives is by far more important.
Social support is often a key part of helping people through the grieving process. Seeing people and knowing they aren’t alone can help the person to slowly adjust to their new life without their loved one. Even if they do not want to see anyone at first, simply reaching out with a text, phone call or even letter can be enough to show you’re thinking of them. Let them know that when they are ready, you will be there. It may take time, so don’t stop reaching out after the first few weeks or months after their loved one’s death. Keep trying.
Don’t be afraid to talk about the person who has died. Sometimes when you are grieving it can feel like you are the only person that remembers them.
If they do not have plans for Christmas, do consider extending an invite to them to celebrate with you. Being around people and joining in with their Christmas traditions may be helpful to the person rather than spending the day alone. Don’t be pushy, however. If they decline your invitation, do not be hurt, but instead let them know they are welcome if they change their mind. Grief is unpredictable and they may decide they would like company on the day after all. Just in case, prepare plenty of food to go around.
Similarly, if there are events to attend around the Christmas season, they might feel a little apprehensive about going. Offer to go with them and stay by their side during the event. It can be intimidating at the best of times entering a party alone. This is only intensified when you are experiencing grief. Helping the person to navigate social events is a great way to support them through the season.
If you are used to sending out Christmas cards this time of year, perhaps consider sending a thoughtful note to the person. Don’t be afraid to mention the person who has died, sharing memories of them if you knew them, alongside a message to let them know you are thinking of them.
What’s Your Grief has put together this helpful guide with advice on supporting someone this Christmas who is grieving.
Support Their Decision
You may have several preconceived notions around what is ‘best’ for the person who is grieving, particularly around Christmas time. However, grief is different for everyone and cannot be dictated to. Support however they choose to spend Christmas and don’t try to push your ideas on them. If they want to hide from the world and act as if it’s just another day, let them. If they want to join in with celebrations, laugh and make merry, support them. Don’t make them feel guilty about how they decide to spend Christmas. Let them know you support them wherever they are.
Offer practical support to the grieving person. Many people when trying to help make the common mistake of saying ‘let me know if there is anything you need’. It is much better to offer a specific way of how you can help, like cooking a meal for a particular day or picking up the children from school. Around Christmas, there can be a myriad of tasks to complete. Why not offer to cook Christmas dinner for the person. Or handle the Christmas shopping for the kids? Ask the person what it is that they need. And remember, don’t make promises you can’t keep.
Look Out For Signs of Depression
Christmas can be difficult for anyone struggling with their mental health. Every message they see tells them they should be feeling happy when they are feeling anything but. This can lead to feelings of guilt and isolation. It is natural for someone to feel depressed following a bereavement. However, it is important to watch for any concerning signs that suggest it is more than grief. If they start exhibiting signs such as talking about suicide or difficulty functioning, they could be experiencing clinical depression. Encourage them to seek professional support and even offer to go with them to the doctor if they need it.
Suggest an Activity
It might be helpful to suggest an activity to do with the person who is grieving. Something a simple as a walk or seeing a film can help distract them as well as getting them out of the house. Try to find activities they might enjoy, that don’t require too much energy, Grief can be exhausting and simply getting out of bed can be a chore.
When dealing with someone who is grieving, no two experiences are the same. Remember to be patient, taking time to listen to them. Allow them space to express their emotions. If they are angry or rude, respond with grace. And most of all, do not expect them to be ‘over it’ by next Christmas. Or the Christmas after. Or the Christmas after that. Grief lessens but never truly leaves us. Even just reaching out by text could make all the difference to someone this Christmas.
Jessie Gray has spent many years writing on topics ranging from family bereavement to promoting mental wellbeing. Her writing has been featured in several different online publications. You can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.