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Comforting the grieving during the holidays

In our most recent posting, Not-So-Happy Holidays, we offered tips for those struggling with grief during the holiday season. One of the best ways to help someone struggling with grief, however, is to provide them with a supportive network of friends and family to help them through this difficult time. However, many of us struggle to find ways to support a grieving friend or loved one during this time of year.

imagesCAPA1R30You may feel that anything you can do or say will be inadequate to comfort them during this difficult time. In fear of saying the wrong thing, many people choose to be silent and avoid mentioning the loss and the loved one who is not there. But this is probably the worst thing we can do for someone who is grieving.

To help you show your consideration and care for your grieving loved one during this holiday season – and through all seasons – the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization has published these wonderful tips.

  • Be supportive if the person wants to break tradition and do things differently this year. Decorating the tree alone, or sorting through memory-laden minefields may be too much for them to handle. In fact, they may not be able to face many of their normal holiday traditions this year. Offer your support and understanding for any deviations that they feel are necessary this year. Some of these traditions may be resumed in years to come.
  • imagesCADWN1FTOffer to help with baking or cleaning. These tasks can often seem overwhelming. Having someone take over some regular chores, or holiday work, may give them the relief they need from some stress.
  • Ask if you can lend a hand with seasonal decorating – if your loved one even wants to decorate this year.
  • Volunteer to help with holiday shopping. Offer to pick-up a few of their holiday gifts during your shopping outings. Or offer catalogs and suggestions of online shopping sites to ease some of their burden.
  • Invite the person to attend a religious service with you. Even your friend who does not attend services regularly may find comfort in attending with you.
  • Extend an invitation to your home during the holidays. Your loved one may not feel equipped to accept your invitation, or may not be able to stay long. However, the invitation will mean the world to them.
  • Help prepare and mail holiday cards. One bereaved woman has shared that “signing one less name on a holiday card was more than could be managed.” Be aware that what may seem simple to you may be filled with meaning for those dealing with recent grief.
  • Ask the person if he or she is interested in volunteering with you. Doing something for someone else may help the person feel better. And opportunities for giving are abundant this time of year.
  • Make a donation in memory of the person who died. A symbol that their loved one is not forgotten is incredibly important to someone who is grieving. Here at the Wilderness Center, we see an increase in Tree of Life donations at this time of year.
  • Never tell someone to “get over it.” There is no timeline for grief. Everyone must go through it at their own pace. Instead of pushing your loved one into false merriment, give the person hope that, eventually, he or she will enjoy the holidays again.
  • If your friend wants to talk about their feelings or the person who died, be comfortable listening. Your loved one may be inundated with memories that they need to share, or in need of a compassionate shoulder to lean on during this time. Active listening from friends is an important step for healing.
  • Remind the person that you are thinking of him or her – and the loved one who died. Simply keeping them in your thoughts and showing your concern can mean a great deal.

In general, the best way to help those who are grieving is to let them know you care! Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing – just say something.

All hospice bereavement programs offer grief support service to the community, regardless of whether their loved one was cared for by hospice or not. For more information about dealing with grief, visit NHPCO’s Caring Connections website at or call their HelpLine at 800-658-8898.