The holidays can be a beautiful time and season for so many. They’re sentimental, and they remind you to take time and focus on the ones you love.
And then sometimes, they just suck. Because when you experience loss, whether it’s through death, whether it’s relational loss, whether it’s a complete and utter upheaval of your life, and you’re not quite sure anymore which way is up, the holidays can only serve to fuel the pain and remind you of exactly that which you are missing.
I’ve been given something I consider a distinct privilege. In my own grief, I’ve had the opportunity to use words to join hands with thousands of others, and through these connections, I’ve witnessed the kindness, compassion, and love of others as I receive message after message that read something like this:
“My [daughter/sister/brother/friend/aunt/etc.] lost their [child/spouse/best friend/mother/father/etc.] recently and they read your site. What can I do to support them?”
My credentials in this area are not professional, and they’re the kind I would rather exchange for anything else. I can only answer from my experiences, of which I’ve had a few more than I’d care to have.
[Note to my grieving friends: One thing I’ve witnessed: you are loved. Your family and friends do care, and they do want to help, they just don’t always know what to do.]
Here are three simple ways to love those hurting through the holidays.
“This just sucks. I’m so sorry.” This past October, I met another woman who also lost her son several years ago. She told me that the single best thing anyone said to her after his death came in the last place she expected: from a large, burly tattoo artist in a tattoo parlor. After telling him about the loss of her son, he sat back, took a deep breath, and with tears in his eyes, he looked at her and said, “Wow. That sucks.”
She said that after a year of grief counseling, that single statement, said with compassion and validation was the most helpful she had heard.
There’s something about acknowledging pain, heartache, and the weight of it all. Even if it is never verbalized, approaching others with a compassionate heart seems to be the first step to loving them well through pain. If a loved one has faced a loss, know that it is probably not far from their mind. Know that the holidays will likely amplify the pain. Know that a little compassion and validation can go a long way.
“Be whatever you need to be.” Giving freedom and loving them through these times without expectation is one of the biggest things you can do. They might not know what will be most beneficial — the distraction of company or solitude. Lay down your expectations of them on that day. Give them freedom to be themselves, and let them know that you will love them, no matter what form they come in.
“I’m right here.” Be present and available, ready to talk, ready to listen. Even if you live far away, let them know they can pick up the phone and call you if they need someone to be there. If you live near, reach out to them. Invite them over without expectations. Love them. Welcome them, and let them make the choice on what they can handle. If they choose not to come, not to call, not to do anything, don’t take it personally, but know they are only trying to survive a difficult time.
Let them know that that’s okay, too.
The bottom line is this: Love them with compassion and understanding, and with that, you will love them well. With your kindness, love, and grace, they can brave the hardest of days.
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