The first year of grief can be a roller coaster of emotions that are unpredictable and at times scary. Your friend has embarked on a journey they wished they never had to take and at each turn they find that life has changed and they have to chart a new course. The first year of holidays and family celebrations can bring a sense of uneasiness and displacement. Everything is new for them and yet the rest of the world seems to have remained the same. There are most likely many questions going through their mind. How will I feel? Will I want to celebrate the holidays? Will anyone remember my loss? If I sleep through the holidays, will it make all the deep feelings of sadness go away? And when will they stop showing all the happy commercials of families enjoying the holidays?
After my mother passed away, the first Thanksgiving and Christmas were a blur. It felt like we were going through the motions but not really present. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and birthdays were always a celebration with many family and friends at my mom’s home. After my mom passed away, I felt like I was lost and did not know where I fit in anymore. It took many years before my new life without my mom became full of new traditions. Having friends and family around helped easy the deep feelings of loss I felt that first year.
How friends can help during the holidays
•Respect their decisions about the holidays. Each person’s reaction to the holidays after a loss is unique. Some may find comfort in continuing with family traditions, other may wish to start a new tradition, and still others may want to travel and be away from home during the holidays. Respect their decision and understand that they are doing their best to make their way through the many emotions they are feeling.
•Encourage Simplicity. If the person grieving usually hosts the family festivities or has a long To Do list this time of year, offer your assistance. Holiday dinners can take a lot of energy to prepare, offer to host the family dinner or help prepare the meal. You may even want to suggest going to a restaurant to take off the pressure. Holiday shopping can also be stressful, offer to help them with the shopping or suggest that the family reduces the number of presents by drawing names.
•Help them make a plan. Although your friend may think they are up to putting together all the traditional family activities, they may find that they become overwhelmed in the process. Help them find alternatives, even at the last-minute, should they not feel up to the “traditions” of the season. Assist them in creating a plan for the holidays that encourages self-care and helps them move through the holidays with a little more ease. And if they choose to skip the holidays this year, be supportive.
•Acknowledge the Loss. Be sure to acknowledge your friend’s loss this time of year and don’t be afraid to use the name of the person that has passed away. Send a card, make a phone call, stop by with a plate of their favorite holiday treat and remind them that you are thinking about them.
•Share Your Memories. Sharing memories and pictures can be very therapeutic. It allows everyone involved to share their memories and honor the person that has passed away.
•Pamper the mind, body and spirit. The depth of emotions that grieving can bring is exhausting mentally and physically. Encourage your friend to take care of themselves by eating nutritious meals, getting exercise and making time to process the feelings they are going through.
•Holiday Gifts – Should you or shouldn’t you? If your friend has decided that they want to exchange gifts, consider buying something for them like you normally would and also include a memorial gift in remembrance of their loved one. A memorial ornament, a scrapbook with pictures of their loved one or a remembrance candles, shows your friend that you acknowledge their loss. Just know that the one gift that they want most in the world, having their loved one back, you will never be able to give them.
•Ask Questions. If you are not sure what your friend needs, be sure to ask questions, listen and respect their decision. If they decide they want to host the holiday dinner, allow them but offer to help. If they want some time alone, allow them to have their space but let them know you are there for them anytime.
•Leave the front and back door open. Feelings of grief throughout the holidays can be unpredictable. Allow your friend or family member the space to back-out of holiday activities or join-in at the last-minute without feeling guilty.
•The best present you can bring is your Love. Deep feelings of grief can leave your friend feeling lifeless. Pamper them, hug them, love them, and take special care of them. Remind them that although they have lost a loved one, they still have family and friends that love them.
The first year after a loss is a start of a new life. Just like walking for the first time, your loved one may feel wobbly and may fall down many times as they find their way. Have a little faith that they will find joy again – one tiny step at a time.
For Holiday Grief Support Resources, please visit our website at http://www.ididnotknowwhattosay.com/Holiday_Grief_Support.html
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©2011 Lori Pederson
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