And can it be that in a world so full and busy, the loss of one creature makes a void so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of eternity can fill it up!”
~Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)
Just the name “Charles Dickens” makes us think of Christmas. For many, this is a season of family, gifts and good cheer. But for some, it is a holiday that brings added pain when grief is present.
Grief is the natural process of missing someone who has died, someone we have invested in with love. It is a long, individual and unique journey for each person who ventures on its path. Unfortunately, grief, death and loss do not take a holiday at any time, especially at Christmas. In this season of love, family, gifts and glad tidings, there are many who are struggling to find a moment of peace in the chaos of happiness. How can anyone who is missing their loved one with an aching heart join in on the happy festivities?
There are comforting ways to offer support for those who will be trying to cope with the holidays when grief is the guiding emotion. Let the grieving person make the decisions regarding what they would like to do. Too often, we assume they will either want to be surrounded by family and friends, or that they will want to observe the holiday on their own. But without actually talking with them, we may be inclined to extend an invitation that puts them in a place of feeling like they are supposed to attend and celebrate as if nothing is wrong, or we leave them alone at a time when they do want company. Check in and find out what they would like to do. If they don’t know, offer options so they can decide in the moment, on that day. And don’t be offended if they decline an offer. While it may make us feel good to extend an invitation, creating their new life without their loved one takes times to reflect on the holiday season and past memories by themselves.
More tips if you are helping someone cope during the holidays:
- Make a donation in memory of their loved one to their favorite charity or to a cause they have indicated is important to them.
- With a group of friends, create of system of providing meals but again, check with the individual to make sure they are up to accepting visitors into their home.
- Offer to run errands.
- Offer to find supportive, local resources.
- Offer to go for a walk in the fresh air.
- Offer to provide childcare if you have done so in the past.
In the end, the best gift anyone who is grieving can receive is the gift of compassionate listening. No judgment, no changing the facts, no shutting down the conversation. Just listening and being present.
Grieving families often struggle with wondering if it will be too painful to continue with familiar traditions or to put them aside and in time, make new ones. As this painful journey unfolds, each will figure out how best to observe the season, even if it means taking a break from the expectations of others and taking care of their own needs.
Wishing you a peaceful holiday season and hope for the New Year if you are grieving, or if you are supporting someone who is.
Submitted by Cheryl Salter-Roberts
Manager, Pilgrims Hospice BriarPatch Centre for Grieving Families