Updated: Dec 26, 2018
Every person’s situation is different, but a common thread among widows and widowers is that the holidays can be very lonely and difficult to deal with. This Christmas, do you want to help a parent, sibling, friend or neighbor? We’ve compiled a list of suggestions to help your loved one get through holiday grief. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but we hope you find something to make their holiday just a bit easier.
Offer them a plate at your holiday dinner. This is such a simple & easy gesture, and can help fight the holiday loneliness. Make sure they don’t feel out-of-place; some widowed persons have reported that they feel like a burden because the holidays are supposed to be for close family members. That absolutely isn’t true—the holiday season is about your loved ones, whether they’re blood-related or not. Show the widow/er in your life that you care, that they aren’t a burden, and that you would genuinely like for them to be a part of your holiday dinner!
Help them keep their old traditions, or create new ones with them. Some people will want to continue their traditions to let the memory of their spouse “live on” after death. Others will find this too painful. The best way to find out how your loved one feels is by asking them what they’d like to do. Do they want to decorate their Christmas tree and watch old holiday movies, or do they want to try something new? Do they want to celebrate in a new setting or at their own home? A simple change of scenery might really help to overcome holiday grief.
To follow up with the last point: DON’T guilt them into doing holiday activities that they don’t want to do. Decorating a Christmas tree, sending out holiday greeting cards or baking cookies might sound like a good idea to you, but they might not want to practice ANY traditions (new or old), so don’t make them!
Talk about their late spouse. If you’re trying to help a loved one grieve, then it’s very likely that you had your own relationship with the departed. If you’re trying to help your mother or father get through the holidays, share the happy, funny or heartwarming memories of your late-parent. Talk about your own feelings and grief, too— letting them (and yourself) talk about the grief can help to process & heal.
Spend more time with them. It’s important to make sure your loved one feels supported, cared for & surrounded by love on the actual holiday, but the holiday season as a whole is also important. The music, lights, decorations and overall atmosphere around Christmas can fill widow/ers with grief & loneliness as they’re reminded of the passing. Spend some time each week calling them or visiting with them. Eat dinner, watch movies, or even just sit and talk— your company can really help them not-so-alone.
Help them with chores. For some people, grief can make it difficult to carry out daily tasks, like cooking or cleaning. Cooking dinners for them, helping them tidy up their house, or accompanying them during their Christmas shopping can help them to maintain their physical & mental health during a time when they may not be prioritizing it.
Consider accompanying them to visit a counselor. Their emotional health could deteriorate quickly, especially during their first year following spousal loss, and counselors/psychologists can offer expert services to help them heal. Some people, for one reason or another, don’t want to seek help when they really need it, so encouraging them to seek professional help & accompanying them can help them feel loved, supported & valid in their decision.
Don’t forget about them after the first year following spousal loss—widows and widowers often find more support during the first few months following bereavement, but people stop reaching out after a while. It’s hard to understand how someone is coping, so don’t assume that “they’ve had enough time to heal”. Some people grieve for decades, and the real grief begins once people stop offering their support.
DON’T force them to feel jolly or spread joy. Let them be grumpy about the neighbors “obnoxious” Christmas lights, mad about the Santa firetruck that rolls around the neighborhood with blaring sirens, or avoidant of the Christmas carolers. Let them cry on Christmas, if they need to, to get their feelings out. Their emotions are valid— they’ve suffered a huge tragedy, and that’s going to take a toll on how they’re feeling. Don’t call them a scrooge, just sit with them and find things that they can enjoy about the season.