Family, friends, laughter and happiness – that’s what the holiday season is all about. But for those suffering with grief it can be quite the opposite. If you know someone who has recently lost a loved one, or if the holiday season is know to stir up difficult memories, here’s how to help a friend through the Christmas period.
1 – Invite them to events, but don’t push them
Whether it’s a Christmas party or an invite to the big day, be sure to include your friend in the festivities. Don’t assume they will say no or won’t want to be around other people. However, when extending an invitation, make sure it comes with an understanding that there is no obligation to attend if they are not feeling up to it. Remember that no one wants to feel pressured into having to attend multiple events, especially at such a difficult time.
2 – Remember that their plans may change
When thinking about how to help a friend, remember that their plans could change on a dime. This could mean bailing last minute on a holiday party they thought they’d feel up to, or deciding that actually they would like to take you up on that dinner offer. Grief is an erratic and unpredictable thing, so as a friend all you can do is be prepared for this and ensure you are equally flexible and understanding, letting your friend know you support any decisions or changes they make.
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3 – Support the choices they make
Your friend may decide that the best way to deal with Christmas is to carry on as normal, or they may decide to get away from it all and hide out on the sofa, or take a walk for a few hours by themselves. Whatever they decide to do, and however much it impacts your own plans, try to understand their reasons why. You may think their choice is a bad one, but that’s not your call to make.
4 – Offer practical help
Whether it’s taking care of the kids for a few hours, helping with cooking or shopping, wrapping gifts or looking after a much needed DIY job that needs doing, you can help your friend by easing their life admin load. It’s often hard to know how to help in difficult situations such as the death of a loved one, but offering practical help as opposed to ‘let me know if you need anything’ is one way to help a friend.
5 – Send a thoughtful note or card
Instead of the standard happy holiday card, how about sending a thoughtful handwritten note that acknowledges the difficulty of the holiday season, and reflects on a happy memory you’ve both shared.
6 – Listen without minimising or giving advice
How to help a friend over Christmas? Don’t minimise their grief, try to find a silver lining, start a sentence with ‘at least’ or tell them what they ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ do. Grief is not something that can be solved or overcome, it is a completely normal process that takes time, patience and understanding. So, allow your friend to vent, complain, get angry, cry and emote their misery however they need to. As a friend all you can do is be there – after all they’d do the same for you.
If you are grieving this holiday season, remember that you do not need to go through it alone. Pick up the phone, call a relative or friend, or call your national grief helpline for a confidential discussion.