The most wonderful time of the year can be magical for many of us, but it isn’t always that wonderful for everyone. 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, but it doesn’t have to be complicated or a grand gesture to make a big difference.
Here are 10 simple but meaningful ways to be there for someone who’s struggling this holiday season.
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.
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. 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.
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.
Help make the magic
Even the most ambitious of Christmas enthusiasts can have trouble making all that holiday magic and memories for their children. Offer to take their kids with yours to look at Christmas lights, see a movie, visit Santa – whatever it is you’re taking your own kids to do. Help ease any mom guilt they might be feeling about not being up to the task of magic-maker this year by phrasing it as more of a playdate. For example, “[Your child’s name] would really like for [their child’s name] to come look at Christmas lights with us. Would you be OK with that?”
It may seem counterintuitive that someone in the midst of tragedy or loss would want to join a holiday party or gift exchange. You might think that socializing is the last thing they want to do, when in fact, it could be just what they want. Or maybe it’s not. But don’t make the decision for them – invite them, and let them decide. And if they say no, let them know you understand, and they’re welcome to join if they have a change of heart. Even those of us who aren’t struggling can relate to wanting to be invited but not actually wanting to go.
Have a gift wrapping party for two
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. Take charge of gathering all the supplies – including the wine – and have them over for some together time where wrapping gifts is less of a chore and more of a time to connect.
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 with them or for them. Bonus points: it gives them the opportunity to get out of the house sans kids for a few hours while you watch them.
Speaking of watching kids, offer to take theirs off their hands for a few hours. Even for those of us who aren’t grieving, putting on our best face with our kids can be mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting. Maybe your friend needs time to recharge alone, or maybe she’s looking to spend a date night with her partner – either way, offer your services so she can do whatever she wants to do.
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.