The holiday season is in full swing, and there's a feeling of good cheer almost everywhere you go. For many people, this is a time of celebrations and gatherings with family and friends. There are parties, projects, and plays at school, and religious services and other activities in the neighborhood. But for those who are struggling with the death of a loved one, the holidays may be a challenging time that unleashes painful feelings that emphasize their sense of loss.
As my co-authors and I put the finishing touch on our book, The Living Memories Project, which is slated to be published next spring, I can't help but sympathize and empathize with both children and adults who are overwhelmed with feelings of sadness during this happy time of year. Our book features interviews with celebrities and others about how they have kept the memories of their loved ones alive through various activities and projects.
Often, friends and family members of those affected by a loss are unsure how to act or what to say to support their grieving loved one during the holidays. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) offers suggestions from hospice professionals, who are experienced at helping people deal with grief and loss, including:
- Be supportive of the way the person chooses to handle the holidays. Some may wish to follow traditions; others may choose to avoid customs of the past and do something new. It’s okay to do things differently.
- Offer to help the person with decorating or holiday baking. Both tasks can be overwhelming for someone who is grieving.
- Offer to help with holiday shopping. Share catalogues or online shopping sites that may be helpful.
- Invite the person to join you or your family during the holidays. You might invite them to join you for a religious service or a holiday meal.
- Ask the person if he or she is interested in volunteering with you during the holidays. Doing something for someone else, such as helping at a soup kitchen or working with children, may help your loved one feel better about the holidays.
- Donate a gift or money in memory of the person’s loved one. Remind the person that his or her loved one is not forgotten.
- Never tell someone that he or she should be “over it.” Instead, give the person hope that, eventually, he or she will enjoy the holidays again.
- Be willing to listen. Active listening from friends and family is an important step to helping some cope with grief and heal.
- Remind the person you are thinking of him or her and the loved one who died. Cards, phone calls and visits are great ways to stay in touch.
In general, the best way to help those who are grieving during the holidays is to let them know you care and that their loved one is not forgotten.
Many people are not aware that their community hospice is a valuable resource that can help people who are struggling with grief and loss. More information about grief or hospice is available from NHPCO’s Caring Connections.