As the year draws to an end, attention for many people turns to festive events such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan and the turning of the calendar year. For many, the holiday season is a special time of year marked by celebrations and gatherings with family and friends. For those struggling with the death of a loved one, the holidays may be a difficult time full of painful reminders that emphasize their sense of loss.
Often, friends and family members of those affected by a loss are unsure how to act or what to say to support their grieving loved one during the holidays.Hospice professionals, who are experienced at helping people deal with grief and loss, offer some suggestions:
- Be supportive of the way the person chooses to handle the holidays. Some may wish to follow traditions; others may choose to avoid customs of the past and do something new. It’s okay to do things differently.
- Offer to help the person with decorating or holiday baking. Both tasks can be overwhelming for someone who is grieving.
- Offer to help with holiday shopping. Share catalogs or online shopping sites that may be helpful.
- Invite the person to join you or your family during the holidays. You might invite them to join you for a religious service or at a holiday meal where they are a guest.
- Ask the person if he or she is interested in volunteering with you during the holidays. Doing something for someone else, such as helping at a soup kitchen or working with children, may help your loved one feel better about the holidays.
- Donate a gift or money in memory of the person’s loved one. Remind the person that his or her loved one is not forgotten.
- Never tell someone that he or she should be “over it.” Instead, give the person hope that, eventually, he or she will enjoy the holidays again.
- Be willing to listen. Active listening from friends and family is an important step to helping some cope with grief and heal.
- Remind the person that you are thinking of him or her and the loved one who died. Cards, phone calls and visits are great ways to stay in touch.
- Follow up after the holidays to check in. Given the activity of the season, some people may make it through the holidays without any issues but they might find the post-holiday period to be more difficult. So checking in after the holidays to see how he or she may be doing is helpful.
In general, the best way to help those who are grieving during the holidays is to let them know you care and that their loved one is not forgotten.
“Hospice and palliative care professionals have always recognized the need to provide emotional and spiritual support to those who are grieving,” said J. Donald Schumacher, president and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. “Hospices often offer support to community members struggling with grief or loss.”
To learn more about grief or coping with loss, visit NHPCO’s Caring Connections at www.caringinfo.org/grief.