When the Holidays Aren’t Happy—How to Support Someone You Love During Difficult Times

grieving during the holidays
Source: @alainakaz

The most wonderful time of the year is not so wonderful for many people. All of the cheer and celebration that comes with the holidays can be especially difficult for people who are grieving or just not in their best place. It can be easy to let the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing get in the way of showing up for someone. And it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture to make a big difference. 

Here are some simple but meaningful ways to be there for someone who’s struggling this holiday season.

 

Say something

Anything. OK, well not just anything (more on that later), but grief is isolating. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a divorce, a miscarriage, or the loss of a job, there are so many situations that can make the holidays less than happy. Don’t be afraid to mention to someone that you’re thinking of them during the holiday season, and you know it must be a difficult time of year for them. You won’t be “reminding” them of their pain—chances are, that is something they’re always carrying with them. A simple acknowledgment can help shoulder some of that heavy load.

 

Bring them something they love

It doesn’t have to be big. Are they into flowers? Candles? Ornaments? Bath bombs? Face masks? It doesn’t really matter what you bring them. The show of support is in the gesture. If they’re mourning the loss of a loved one, you can honor their loved one’s memory by bringing something that person loved. For example, my grandfather died young and unexpectedly the week before Christmas. He loved poinsettias and always brought them home to my grandmother at Christmastime. Since his passing, my mom brings a poinsettia to my grandmother every year in his honor.

 

difficult holidays

Source: @the_whitehydrangea via #sharetheeverymom

Listen

It’s that simple. Anyone who has been through a tragedy can tell you that talking about it tends to make other people uncomfortable. Allowing someone to talk about their pain is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Here’s the thing: you might not know exactly what to say, and that’s OK.

 

Mourning a loss doesn’t mean you aren’t grateful for what you have. It means you’re missing what you don’t.

 

The key is to listen without judgment and without trying to fix it or offer your perspective of the bright side. Someone who is venting doesn’t expect you to fix anything, and there’s no doubt they’ve already tried to look at the bright side. Don’t invalidate their feelings by reminding them of all the things they do have to be grateful for. Mourning a loss doesn’t mean you aren’t grateful for what you have. It means you’re missing what you don’t. And that’s OK—in fact, it’s part of healing.

 

Make extra

Whether it’s a meal or a batch of cookies, double your recipe and drop it at their doorstep. Socializing can be hard when you’re in the throes of difficulty, so don’t be surprised if they’re not even up for coming to the door to make small talk. Take the initiative, send them a quick text to make sure they’re home, and let them know you’re dropping a little something at their door. 

 

difficult holidays

Source: @snyderfamilyco via #sharetheeverymom

 

Offer to wrap gifts for them

I don’t know about you, but every year, I imagine wrapping presents as a fun-filled day with hot apple cider and Christmas music playing in the background as I joyfully curl ribbons around the perfectly coordinated and beautiful wrapping paper that I obviously bought well in advance of Christmas. Spoiler alert: not so much. For someone who is struggling, it can feel overwhelming to get the gifts wrapped and under the tree in enough time to get that Instagram-worthy moment. Offer to pick up their gifts, wrap them, and drop them off later to take a task off their plate. 

 

Help decorate

Unpacking all the holiday décor from storage is a chore in itself. Even on my best day, I fantasize about paying someone else to do it while I run errands and return to a beautifully decorated home. Drumming up the motivation to decorate when you’re not in the holiday spirit is close to impossible. Offer to come over and do it while they’re out of the house. If they’re all set, you could offer to help un-decorate and pack everything away for next year. 

 

Don’t ask, just do it

Most people will politely turn down offers for help, and I’ve never actually had someone request something when I’ve said: “Let me know if you need anything.” … Which brings me to my next point: don’t say that.

Simply think of something you would want if you were in their shoes and then do that for them. Drop a little gift by their house. Mail them a care package. Pick up a few of their favorite treats. Send a note or a text. A simple, “I know this time of year must be hard for you. I’m thinking of you,” can go a really long way. Whatever “it” is, just do it.

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