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How to Help Someone in Grief This Holiday Season

The power behind saying a loved one's name

Photo by Kristin Meekhof
Source: Photo by Kristin Meekhof

This is the time of year when grief tends to whistle loudest. Other times of the year, grief is more sublime, but this month the bereaved are keenly aware of grief's presence. Their loved one is not here, and the bereaved tend to hold their breath through the ordinary tasks of baking, shopping, and eating with others.

The darkness of grief is not so faint, and there's a silence that deafens the bereaved. It is no easy thing to talk about those who are no longer with us. And when it comes to speaking of the past, few dare to even whisper the deceased one's name.

However, for the bereaved, one of the greatest gifts you can give is to mention their loved one's name. After all, the name is the one thing that is uniquely their own. Surely others may share the name, but the name belongs to them. Saying their name may bring tears, but it is also because you were brave enough to meet them in their deepest need. Chances are, your heart will be pounding, and theirs will be too, but wait and listen.

Listen to what comes next. Chances are, there will be a story. A simple yet poignant one that you'll carry with you and will give you a glimpse into their past. A past filled with joy until sorrow entered. And because you dared to be the one who didn't have pity on the bereaved, but took time to hold them and listen, you too will not be forgotten.

And I suppose there will be awkward pauses and, perhaps, a solemn silence, but you will have filled a part of the bereaved one's void in a way few can and will do. Don't worry about rehearsing a script or saying something creative. Simply mentioning their loved one's name and saying, "I remember" is enough. And in speaking those words, "I remember James," or "I remember Peach," your voice may shake, but remember there's one thing you just did: you remembered.

When people ask me what to say to the bereaved or what they can do, I say remember to speak the name of the bereaved. It sounds so ordinary; yet, it is often the most remarkable thing you can do.

For those who are spiritual and have a knack for the holy, when you say their name, it does become a holy moment. A moment you won't forget, and you'll know that there is nothing like it. You've softened their grief and filled a void. Say their name and listen.

Kristin A. Meekhof is a writer, speaker, and licensed master's level social worker. She is the co- author of the best-selling book A Widow's Guide to Healing, with cover blurbs from Dr. Deepak Chopra and Maria Shriver. Kristin was a panelist at the 2017 Harvard Medical School's Writing Conference and can be reached via email at