10 Ways to Support a Grieving Friend Over the Holidays — From People Who Have Been There
This story has been published with permission from Lindsey and Michele.
Question: Why is it so hard to know how to comfort people during the holidays?
Answer: Because it is so hard sometimes to know what each person needs.
Solution: Read on.
It happens to us most years. While addressing the annual Christmas cards, you suddenly stop as you stare at a name. The name of someone who has suffered a loss that year. Loss of a family member or friend. Loss of a job, a house, a marriage or health. Loss of life as they knew it. It could even be the name of one who has passed. What now?
How many of us will set that name aside not knowing what to say or do? Maybe “waiting” or doing nothing. Afraid of making “it” worse? You are not alone. It happens to the best of us, but we know we can do better.
So, I reached out to my friend Lindsey to gain some insight and she immediately agreed to chat. Lindsey lost her beautiful young son Benjamin suddenly and tragically in July of 2014. These have been hard years. She asked if her friend Michele could join us on the call. She and Michele have a text chain going back four years. Michele lost her young daughter Josephine in the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy seven years ago … a friendship connected by tragedy.
For Lindsey and Michele, pain and holidays go hand in hand. Lindsey lost Benjamin a few days after the 4th of July, Michele lost Josephine days before Christmas. How do they find comfort?
I am keeping it present tense because the first takeaway is this:
1. Please don’t ever assume people are “over it” or have “moved on.”
Each year is as painful as the year before. The call was part of a typical day. Michele was in her car running errands with her children and Lindsey was between meetings at work. It struck me how important it is to:
2. Remember those needing comfort are blending into life.
They are living in a world we can’t even imagine and doing what has to be done with maybe even a smile on their face. All while hiding the gaping hole in their hearts and the tears they cry behind closed doors. Lindsey began by recalling a text she sent to Michele a few years ago. “Holidays are lonely,” she said. It was a very isolating time for them. She couldn’t bear to send their annual cards without Benjamin’s picture on them, so she didn’t send them out. But what she quickly realized is she wasn’t receiving many either. Where were all the cards she used to get? Why weren’t people reaching out to them?
For Michele, it was a bit different. Christmas and the yearly very public anniversary of Josephine’s death go hand in hand. Additionally, she felt she could honor Josephine by sending out the annual card. So, she did receive cards, sometimes needing to wait to open them, but always appreciating them.
3. Two women, two different scenarios both with the same advice: send the card!
A few other things that they spoke about:
4. Please don’t remove us from any communications.
Group emails, group texts, mailed notices. From the school, from the community, from friend groups and activities. The lack of contact from those we normally hear from brings so much extra hurt.
5. Recognize we can’t get away from the memories.
Everywhere we look are reminders of our last Christmas. We think about exactly how old the person we lost would be at each gathering. We recall the last gift they were given. Memories are everywhere and time doesn’t take them away. Do you have a memory you can share? Share it with us.
6. Don’t worry about what to say to us.
Don’t worry about “fixing” anything. Just be there for us. Whatever you are most comfortable doing, do that. Maybe it’s a walk. Maybe a text or a call. Or maybe just bringing over some cookies and a hug.
It was at this point the call went to the dogs. Literally. We started talking about how dogs make everything better. It’s also a common thread that joined the three of us together. With Lindsey, it was how I met her. Weeks after she lost Benjamin, I brought Addie, a comfort dog, to her home and spent time with her beautiful family. A few months later, little puppy Harley became part of Lindsey’s family. I also took Addie into Sandy Hook Elementary each week, the halls where sweet little Josephine no longer walked. In the halls of Michele’s home ran a new family member. A beautiful labradoodle named Dash. There to bring comfort and ease the pain.
And so, here we also learn easy, valuable lessons for comforting someone over the holidays.
Be like Harley. Be like Dash.
7. Show up.
Harley and Dash are never too busy to comfort. They are never on phones or answering emails. They have their priorities straight.
Harley and Dash can’t talk. But they have the best ears on the planet. They are always there for whoever needs to talk. Giving hugs, but never advice. Just being there is what is needed most.
9. Recognize people who are hurting.
If you have a dog, you know they are masters at this. They instinctively look for people to cheer up. Let’s be like that.
As we were closing the call, Michele mentioned there is no “moving on” from this kind of loss. However, she likes to say she is “moving forward” and each day brings her closer to the day she will see Josephine again.
Let’s let that sink in … moving forward, not moving on. You can help with that.
10. This time of year is really all about hope.
There are so many who need you to shine that glimmer of hope into their lives. And you my friends have the power of that hope in your hearts and in your hands and in the simple comfort that you can bring.
It doesn’t have to be hard. Share your heart. Just like Harley and Dash.
A version of this story was originally published on Inspiring Comfort.
Unsplash image by Court Cook