While the holidays can be a time of great happiness and family bonding, for some it brings back painful memories of grief, especially for those who have lost a child. It can also be difficult for family and friends who want to support their loved ones who are grieving, but aren’t sure what to say or do.
Here are some suggestions and resources that may help if you’re grieving the loss of a child or loved one, or know someone who is.
If you have experienced a loss:
- It is OK to grieve. It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect yourself to be OK. You may need some alone time to allow yourself to feel the emotions you are going through. It is completely normal to feel this way. Adding pressure to act in a certain way or to “be normal” can only make you feel worse and more alone.
- Stick to everyday routines. Try to keep to a normal eating and sleeping schedule, even if you don’t want to. This will help you figure out what will be best for you during the holiday season.
- Think about what will be best for you. Being alone could make your grief stronger while being in a big group could be overwhelming. Plan ahead for what you think will be best for you and ask your family members to support you.
- If your house is usually the party venue, you may want to rethink hosting. Some people can distract themselves with the planning and cooking in a positive way, while others become overwhelmed with the responsibility. It’s OK if you need to have someone else take over for you. Remember, you need to think about what’s best for you.
- Keep your lost loved one in your conversation. It is healthy for you and others to remember the good times. Laughing about funny things they said or telling stories about good things they did will reinforce the positive memories. Some people will avoid talking about the topic because they think it may help to forget, but let them know it’s OK to talk about their life.
- Think about whether changing it up this year would be a positive thing for you. Keeping to your usual holiday routine can sometimes point out that someone is missing.
If someone you care about is grieving:
- Let them grieve. People grieve in different ways, but it’s important to think about their needs. Some people prefer to be alone while others carry on as usual. For them, talking and interacting with other people distracts them from the pain of grief.
- If you notice that your family member or friend isn’t eating, sleeping or keeping to other daily routines, don’t ignore it. Talk to them about the importance of their routine and staying healthy. Some of these can be signs of clinical depression, so suggesting a counselor can be a positive step.
- Before the holiday season arrives, talk to the person about what he or she would prefer to do. Some people may want to set an empty place at the table for their lost one, some may want to tell funny anecdotes, or some may just want a prayer or moment of remembrance. No matter what they want, help them make it happen.
- Offer a helping hand. If your holiday party usually takes place at their house, talk to them about letting someone else take over this year. If they still want to have it, make sure you and your family help out as much as possible.
- Listen. Ask them about the loss and how they are feeling , but do not judge or offer advice. Just be there for them.
- Suggest trying something new. It can be positive to create new memories and traditions for the holidays.
- Griefhealing.com offers an abundance of articles about how to deal with grief during the holidays.
- ADEC, the Thanatology Association, has compiled lists of resources related to grief topics.