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5 Ways to Support The Bereaved This Holiday Season

How to be there for someone who is grieving during the holidays.

Key points

  • If you’re seeing a child, take a small grounding object with you.
  • The bereaved often feel overlooked and forgotten. Simply scheduling the time gives the bereaved something joyful to look forward to.
  • Remember, you don’t have to come with answers when you reach out to the bereaved.

Connecting with someone who is grieving may seem challenging and knowing what to say can help you feel more at ease. If you are longing to support your loved one during this time of the year, but are unsure what to do or say, here are five ways to support the bereaved.

Kristin Meekhof
Source: Kristin Meekhof

If you’re seeing a child, take a small grounding object with you. Young children will often take a blanket or stuffed animal with them to daycare because this object makes them feel safe and secure. As adults, we can also give small objects to other adults, to provide a grounding effect.

A few years after my husband died, a friend sent me a handwritten card, and I carried it with me in my handbag for months. Whenever I felt anxious, I would take it out and read it. Just reading her words brought comfort.

Set aside time to do something to support them. During a busy month, it can help to shift your attention to scheduling a time to connect. You don't need a plan to get a date on the calendar. Simply scheduling the time gives the bereaved something joyful to look forward to. Even 20 minutes can make a huge difference. The bereaved often feel forgotten and overlooked. Letting them know you are thinking of them and want to connect over coffee or via Zoom is a gift.

Simple gifts are the best. A gift doesn't need to be over the top. If you're longing to bring a gift, such as a food item, to your friend, your generosity shows them you care. And it can spark joy. Don’t feel pressured to make anything from scratch. In doing research for my book, a widow told me she only received one gift from a church member the second Christmas without her husband. She said, "Every holiday is lonely." Just knowing that you took the time to pick something up means the world to the bereaved.

Don’t be afraid to say their name. Simply saying their loved one’s name goes a long way. Telling them you’re thinking about their mother, for example, and sharing a special memory is meaningful. Your memory may be something that the bereaved hasn't heard. When my maternal grandma would share a memory of my (now late) father I clung to every word because I have so few memories of him. If you're unable to see the person, taking time to send an email with a photo or handwritten card with a memory, is also a gift. Recently, a friend of my father's sent me (via email) a high school photo (from a yearbook) of my dad with a funny story behind it. This thoughtful note made my day.

Offer them a hug. If you’re in person, don’t forget to give them a hug. Research shows that a hug can have healing benefits. Oxytocin is released when you receive it, and this happiness can make the bereaved feel loved. For those who live alone, you may be the only person who offers them a hug that day. A few weeks ago, I ran into the woman who helped me cope with the loss of my husband. I don't remember all of the words she spoke, but I do remember the warm feeling of her hug.

Remember, you don’t have to come with answers when you reach out to the bereaved. When your intention is to provide comfort, simply showing up is more than enough. You're helping them feel less alone, and your gesture will not be forgotten.

References

Killam, K. (2015). A Hug a Day Keeps The Doctor Away article. Scientific American.

Healthline. What Are The Benefits of Hugging article.

Meekhof, K., & Windell, J. (2015). A Widow's Guide to Healing. Naperville, ILL: Sourcebooks.

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