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6 Simple Ways to Support Someone Estranged From Family During the Holidays

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Being estranged from your family is difficult and painful enough without the holiday season being upon us. But when December is here, I find my sadness and grief sky rockets, making every day harder than they were already. Here are some things I find help me through it, and others may too:

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1. Initiate hangouts with friends you know don’t have contact with family.

I think people generally feel like everyone else apart from you is doing something lovely over the Christmas period, but this feels particularly strong for me — especially with these long dark evenings, and Christmassy things all around. It means so much when friends initiate hanging out before and after Christmas. It can feel so lonely, especially when living with chronic illness. So text your mate, even just to see how they are, but even better to see if they wanna do something or just quietly chill together.

2. Ask them what they’re doing for Christmas.

This might sound silly but it always means so much when friends ask me what I’m doing for Christmas. I feel like they are aware of what this season means for me. I feel less alone and less forgotten about.

3. Listen to a friend’s grief without putting pressure on them to be in contact with family.

One of the things that stopped me talking about my grief of not being in touch with my family was people saying, “well, get in touch with them, then.”

We can desperately miss someone and feel sad about the estrangement but know we can’t be in touch. So trust your friend is doing the right thing for them, even if they’re finding it really hard. And just listen. Be an ear for them at this time, and any time they want to share something about not being in touch with family. Cutting contact with family is often heavily judged (from my experience anyway), so it means the world when my good friends understand my decision and don’t judge.

4. If you know your friend struggles with their mental health, ask them about it.

I feel suicidal a lot, but Christmas makes this so much worse. If you know someone struggles with feeling suicidal, anxiety or complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), or whatever they might be experiencing, ask them about it directly. Say, “how are you doing emotionally?

One of the most dangerous myths around suicide and other mental health struggles is the belief that, if we bring something up, we’ll make it worse. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Talking about it brings relief and can save someone’s life. Literally.

5. Give them a gift (if you’re able to).

This doesn’t need to be a bought gift. It can be anything — something you’ve made, a homemade voucher for a meal you’ll make for them, or (for a friend who lives with chronic illness) a voucher for you offering to do their washing up.

I know it might sound shallow or whatever, but one of the things I find the saddest about Christmas is not having presents to open. I’m highly aware that one present is better than none, and I’m so grateful to the couple of friends who always give me presents at Christmas. However, I love presents! I love giving them and I love receiving them — it’s one of my languages of love. We all have different ways we give love and enjoy receiving love, and giving and receiving gifts is one of mine. I just love it. So, give your mate a little something if you can, and know that if they’ve chosen you as someone to give gifts to at this time of heaviness and struggle, it means they really love you.

6. Text them on Christmas Day to ask them how they are or to simply let them know you’re thinking of them.

Again, this might sound simple but it can mean so much. When a friend texts me on Christmas Day, I feel less alone and I feel like I’m part of their day. It’s really easy to feel like everyone is with family (even if that family is difficult, I’m still so envious and full of grief I don’t have that), so feeling part of a friend’s day, even through a simple text message, means a lot.

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Originally published: December 18, 2018
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