Help a grieving friend survive the Christmas season

For someone newly bereaved, it’s hard enough to make it through a single day without their loved one. But add to that, the anticipation of the Christmas season with heightened expectations, and soon feelings of loneliness and anxiety, ramp up. Without their special person, the holidays are familiar yet foreign. Memories trigger a landmine of emotions.

I remember the first Christmas after my son, Jordan, died. Desperately, I wanted to skip the festivities. There was nothing happy and bright in my world. My heart felt resentment towards any celebration, and I withdrew to self protect.

But it’s impossible to avoid all things festive.

Maybe you’re like me and enjoy receiving Christmas cards and letters in the mail.

But my first Christmas without Jordan, reading the words, “Have a merry Christmas. Wishing you a wonderful new year!” felt like salt in a wound. Christmas letters about the successes, joys, and recent additions of other families contrasted the loss of my child against the blessings of others. I felt like an outsider.

What can we write in a card that helps the griever feel like they’re not alone?

Choose words that acknowledge the deep loss.

“Our hearts are hurting with yours this Christmas, as Jordan’s absence is painful. We miss him with you.”

Omit any cliches like, “God must have needed another angel, so He took your loved one to Heaven.”

Your special role

You have a special role as a Hope Hero, a caring friend. Your compassion can make a vast difference to help a griever survive the stressful Christmas season.

But first, take courage to believe that your kindness matters!

Why is this important?

If you don’t believe your help is necessary, the urgency to step in will wane. In fact, you may talk yourself out of getting involved.

Would that be true of you?

If so, let me offer a few thoughts to get you started. It may spark your own creative ideas into action.

Acknowledge that Christmas will be emotionally and physically tough. Invite your grieving friend to tell you what is going to be hardest for them and creatively think of ways you can ease the stress.

Here are some examples:

STRESS: Your grieving friend dreads going to a social event alone.

RELIEF: Offer to join them if it’s appropriate for you to attend the gathering.

If you’re not able to join, suggest dropping them off and picking them up. If you can’t provide transportation, invite them to text you periodically throughout the event. Offer words of encouragement. Inject humour, if possible. The weight of grief can subside for a few minutes with some levity.

You may wonder: Isn’t this being overprotective? After all, it’s only a Christmas event. Trust me. For your newly bereaved friends, it takes a colossal amount of courage to do the simplest things.
It may be the most wonderful time of the year for you, but it’s anything but wonderful for your grieving friend.

STRESS: The griever dreads decorating, gift buying or baking for Christmas.

RELIEF: Reassure them that skipping the typical Christmas traditions is not illegal or a lack of faith.

For several years, my mantra was: I love Jesus, but I hate Christmas.

Why?

My son was no longer here to celebrate with us. Without Jordan, it felt meaningless.

While a griever may disappoint some family members if things are different this year, that’s ok. It’s more important that they don’t feel their loss compounded by the expectations of others. Remind your grieving friend to be kind to themselves. Self-care is not being selfish. It’s necessary to survive.

Or perhaps your grieving friend wants to keep some traditions but feels overwhelmed by the tasks. Providing support by helping to decorate, shopping together or baking for them is a meaningful gift.

An idea that I just love.

Buy a Christmas tree ornament that reminds you of your friend’s loved one. Share why that ornament sparked a memory for you. Or purchase a picture frame tree ornament that holds a small photo of their special person.

Two months before Christmas, Bob and Darlene’s only son, Matthew, died in a tragic accident. Their large extended family lived far away.

Inspired by an idea, Bob and Darlene invited every relative to grieve with them by sending a Christmas ornament that represented something about Matthew. The grieving parents also requested that a note or story accompany the ornament, explaining the choice.

The enthusiastic responses were tangible expressions of love. Sharing memories offers great comfort. The gift of “Matthew ornaments” and stories sent to Bob and Darlene brought them joy. Many of the uplifting or funny stories were unknown to them. What a meaningful gift to learn fresh stories that included their son.

They set a special evergreen tree up with all the “Matthew ornaments” and it remained in a prominent spot in Bob and Darlene’s home all year round.

Why?

It was a visible reminder representing memories of their son and all those who grieved with them. While holidays were difficult and tearful without their son, the grieving parents no longer felt alone. The love of others helped them survive the Christmas season.

Be the reason a grieving soul believes that God cares for them. Be a Hope Hero.

Cheering you on,

Shirley

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Shirley Thiessen

Shirley Thiessen

Author and speaker helping you bring hope to broken, grieving hearts.