The holidays are not jolly or merry for those who’ve lost a loved one, a job, a marriage, or a dream this year. Holiday salutations like Happy, Jolly or Merry are only painful reminders of lost joy. How can you show love to someone who is grieving ?
Our youngest son, Ryan, age 6, died December 10, 1985. Two weeks before Christmas.
He left unopened packages under the Christmas tree. I still remember the pain of waiting in the store “Returns” line, hoping the sales clerk wouldn’t ask the reason for the returns. The dreaded look of sympathy or reaction people gave when I’d say “my son died.”
It has been well over 30 years since our family went through the motions of celebrating Christmas while grieving the loss of a son and brother. We still remember how difficult it was.
While those of us who surround grieving people can’t fix the pain of loss, we can bring comfort as we come alongside those who hurt with special sensitivity to what grief is like during the holidays. ~ Nancy Guthrie
What Grieving People Want You to Know This Time Of Year (and Beyond)
1. Avoid saying Merry Christmas or Happy New Year.
Let me know you are thinking about me during this painful time. It is OK to tell me we are praying for God’s comfort and His peace for you this season.
Consider sending a personal note instead of your traditional Christmas cards or family photo cards. Those perfect, smiling, posed faces are sickening to my aching heart. It reinforces the fact my family is missing someone I love.
Allow me to plan a way to commemorate my loved one at our family celebrations.
Have a place set at the table and set a favorite object in the empty chair. Light a candle. Prepare a favorite recipe in his honor.
Don’t say dumb clichés.
Clichés like God needed a rose in His garden…God needed a special angel. One I heard was You’re young enough to have more children.
God is quite capable of creating whatever He wants or needs in heaven. My child or loved one didn’t have to die to fill God’s need for a rose or an angel.
When you don’t know what to say, “I’m so sorry” is enough. Combined with a heart-felt extended hug is very comforting to a grieving soul.
You don’t have to say anything, but just showing up says tons. Especially if you come with no expectations. ~ Anne Peterson
4. Say my loved one’s name.
Tell me funny stories, anecdotes or experiences you remember about him/her. When you talk about him, I am reminded not of his death, but of his life.
5. Don’t be afraid of my tears.
Tears are cleansing. When I cry, the pain I’ve been carrying and holding inside are released with those tears. Tears are a gift from God that help to wash away the deep pain of loss.
It is a great gift to let grieving people know that they don’t have to be embarrassed by their tears around you — that they are welcome to cry with you. An even greater gift is to shed tears of your own over the loss of the person they love. Your tears reflect the worth of the person who died and assure them that they are not alone in missing that person. ~ Guthrie
About a month after Ryan died, a bible study acquaintance (whose name I do not remember) took me to lunch. She asked questions about Ryan and our experience with his cancer diagnosis and treatment. Oddly, I didn’t cry. This woman felt my pain and unashamedly shed my silent tears.
In my bereavement, I’m not looking for you to fix or solve why I hurt so badly. Provide me with an outlet to voice my pain. And comfort me with a hug, or hold my hand. Offer me a tissue or a whole box of ‘em.
7. Give grace.
Crowds and social gatherings are hard to navigate when you’re grieving. Give grace in awkward situations, and let me know you understand if I need to bolt out the door. (It will help if you walk me out to the car or offer to drive me home.)
When you see I am overwhelmed by even the simplest of decisions, encourage me to withdraw and re-engage when I can think more clearly. Emotional outbursts usually come when I am feeling pressured. Give me space.
8. Don’t avoid me.
My grief is not a contagious disease. I’m not infectious. I don’t have measles….I’m bereaved.
God promises a day when He will wipe all tears from our faces and that there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. Until then, how can you love the grieving ?