“Happy Holidays” is purely wishful thinking for many. With 2.5 million American deaths each year, multiply that number exponentially to account for the millions who are grieving a loss right now. Since holiday traditions often revolve around family and close friends, this can be a sad time of year for those missing a loved one.
A woman recently explained her first experience with grief to me. “No one prepares you for what grief can do to you,” she said. It was like someone shot a canon through my stomach. I was paralyzed.” The first year of holidays without a loved one can be difficult, but so can the years to follow. For some the subsequent years are harder because friends tend to offer less support as time goes on.
It is my hope that by simply raising awareness of this common ache we will all be motivated to be kinder and gentler with others during this time of year. Not just our friends and family members who we know are grieving, but everyone we encounter. The distracted drivers and shoppers. The slow service providers. Our coworkers and employees. Almost everyone is missing someone right now.
In addition to elevating our collective conscious and being better neighbors, what can we do specifically for those we know are grieving? For starters, acknowledge their loss. I remember my first day back to work after my father died suddenly. I walked in thinking, “how am I going to get through today?” A coworker I hardly knew immediately came over and said “I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. I’m here for you if you want to talk about it.” I felt so relieved knowing I didn’t have to fake being okay.
Be an active listener. Just taking the time to hear how the other person is feeling and trying to understand how they are coping will help. This may be all they need from you. The Grief Words Library online can help you with what to say and what not to say http://www.ssrhospicehome.org/grief-support/grief-words-library/.
Accept that people grieve differently. Your friend may cope very differently than you. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Some may focus on celebrating their loved one’s life, others may be angry or withdrawn. Most of us will go through an array of exhausting emotions. Encourage attendance at a grief support group such as Cup of Hope (920-467-7950). If you sense that your friend is becoming depressed or considering self-harm call for professional health. The Sheboygan County Mental Health Crisis line is 920-459-3151.
Offer help with physical needs. Bring meals or help with housework or children if you can. Assist with errands. As time goes on, invite your friend to join you for dinner or small outings so she doesn’t feel alone. Continue to listen.
Remember anniversaries and holidays can be emotionally difficult times, even if it has been years since the loss occurred. Seek to be a comforting presence. Life is so much better with friends.