Grief and Sadness at the Holidays: How to Help

December 6, 2023

The holiday season can be emotional for many people. If a loved one has recently passed away or is experiencing a decline in health, a person’s feelings of sadness can become intensified. It’s hard to witness a friend or family member going through feelings of loss. How can you help someone who is grieving at the holidays?*

First and foremost, be supportive of the person’s choices – whether the person who’s grieving has decided to fly to Antarctica, watch Netflix all day, or celebrate the season exactly the same way they have always done. Individuals cope with sad feelings in many different ways; there’s no one way to process grief. Just because they take a break, do things differently this year, or do things the same this year, it doesn’t mean they will do things this way forever.

Other ways to support someone grieving during the holidays:

  • Extend holiday invitations, but make it clear that you absolutely understand if they aren’t up for it.  
  • Grief is erratic. Sometimes, a person may decide that they don’t actually want to do what they thought they wanted to do (and vice versa). Let your friend know you support any last-minute changes they need to make.
  • Don’t say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” When people are grieving, they may not know what they need. Be specific and offer concrete help, like giving a ride to a religious service, picking up groceries, or just sitting with them over a cup of coffee.
  • Presence is the greatest gift. Don’t try to find a silver lining; don’t tell them they should be over it; don’t tell them what they should or shouldn’t do. Just be there!
  • Grief isn’t linear. Keep this in mind and provide them with the same kindness, support, and consideration as time passes that you did right after their loss.

You can’t fix grief for your friend or family member. But showing your friend that you care and that their feelings matter, and by acknowledging their grief, you can help support them through a difficult season and beyond.

*This article is based on a presentation created by Marilyn Sponzo.

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