Being there: what to say to someone grieving during the holidays
The MIND 24-7 Team | December 29, 2023
For many, the holidays are a time for joyful gatherings with friends and family. But for those dealing with loss or major stress, this time can bring overwhelming emotions. Finding the right words of comfort for pain during the holidays can be tricky. However, with thoughtful words and gestures, we can make a meaningful difference in the lives of those experiencing grief this season. Here’s what to say to someone grieving during the holidays and where to go for support.
Let them know you’re thinking of them
When a person is grieving the loss of a loved one, pet, job, relationship, pregnancy, or something else, they may not want to join in on the holiday festivities. If a person is having a hard time with money, relationships, or another type of stress, it may be hard to focus on all the joy and celebrations. A simple way to show someone you care is to let them know you are thinking of them. Let them know they are on your mind and that you know it must be hard. Acknowledging their pain can help them feel understood and comforted.
Ask them what would be nice this season
It is natural to want to make suggestions to try to help someone feel better. However, letting them take the lead can be more helpful and comforting. Instead of guessing what they want or telling them what they need to do, ask them what they think. You can ask how they feel about certain holiday traditions or what they want to do to honor the memories of those who passed away. If someone is struggling with loneliness, financial stress, or family tension, asking them how they want to spend the season will show concern and understanding of their situation. They may not have an answer, and that’s okay, too. They may want to be alone, take a break from traditions, or something else. Show your support by honoring their wishes.
Empathy and sympathy are commonly confused. Empathy is about trying to understand how someone feels. Sympathy is more like feeling sorry for what they’re going through. When you talk to a loved one who is grieving during the holidays, use empathy to connect with them and show them you care. Be curious about how they are feeling. Don’t make assumptions or judgments. Let them know you are here for them and follow through by being there when they need you.
Sharing memories is a nice way to connect with your grieving loved one and honor those who have passed away. Share fond memories of the person, be available and present to raise a toast to those not present, and say their names. While sharing memories can be sad, it is a real way to process the loss and keep their memories alive. That being said, be sure to follow the lead of the person who is grieving and respect their pacing. Sharing memories too soon could be too painful. Wait until they are ready.
Can I help with ____?
In times of grief, it can be hard to complete tasks. Instead of waiting for them to ask for help, make thoughtful offers. During the holidays, consider offering to help with decorations, shopping, or gift wrapping. Don’t forget about the everyday tasks like walking the dog, taking out the trash, making dinner, and other chores they might need help with. Handling a task on their list can give them a bit more time and space to process the loss or major stressor.
It’s okay not to know what to say, and sometimes it is best to say nothing at all. There are many times that words cannot capture the depth of grief. One of the most helpful and comforting types of communication is active listening. To be an active listener, let the person who is grieving talk about their pain. Sit with them and resist the urge to respond or try to fix their pain. Just be with them and hear them. Be present, compassionate, and open to whatever emotions they may share.
Your resource for holiday grief support
Holiday grief can be incredibly painful, but you are not alone. Whether you are grieving a loss, dealing with major stress, or caring for someone who is, help is available. If you’re in the Phoenix area and need some compassion and care to help you navigate holiday grief, MIND 24-7 is here for you. We offer 24/7 walk-in, crisis, and ongoing support for children and adults, even during the holidays. Whether you need an empathetic listener or emergency help, our doors are always open. To get same-day holiday grief support, visit one of our convenient locations or text/call 1-844-MIND247.