For some, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year– but that’s not true for all of us. It’s quite likely that out of your mix of friends or church family, there are some in your life who will spend the holidays grieving. Here’s a few ideas as to how you could be a better friend to them while they grieve during Christmas:
Be a friend who is available.
A friend really isn’t much of a friend if they don’t feel available. Want to mourn with those who mourn? Simply develop a spirit of availability and sensitivity to those in your life who might be quietly grieving during the holidays. Since we’re well aware nothing could replace our loss, (or that there doesn’t seem to be a magical fix for depression) we’re not looking for someone to try to fix things– just an available you in our lives will do just fine.
If you have a posture of unavailability to a grieving friend, that only increases the sense of loss and sadness. Instead, be available and let them know that you are there for them. Don’t step away from your grieving friends simply because it’s uncomfortable for you– the best friends in the world are the one’s willing to sit in the discomfort right along side you.
Don’t think we want you to pretend that everything is fine.
We don’t. When someone is grieving a loss, those around them may have a tendency to avoid the issue thinking that it helps them get things off their minds. Well, I have a newsflash for you: it’s always on our minds.
When folks pretend that nothing is wrong and avoid the issue of loss (or depression), it actually has the opposite effect as what is intended. When everyone else appears to be ignoring the loss, our feelings of grief or sadness fail to be validated– and lack of emotional validation can drive someone mad. Feel free to bring it up in conversation– we’re not going to be upset with you, we’ll probably be relieved you did.
Directly ask us how we’re doing.
In line with the previous point, sometimes we’re desperate for someone to ask us how we’re doing. A direct question gives us permission to talk about grief or depression and permission to talk about our feelings. People who are grieving, especially when it is an issue of extended grief (or depression), worry that they’re being that one friend who’s always a downer. Because of that, we too often may keep the issue to ourselves out of fear that hearing about our grief will be too much for you.
We know that our pain is making the holidays difficult for us, and don’t want to feel like we’re dragging you down with us. However, when you directly ask, we feel permission to be real– and we need to be real.
Be a friend who listens and who isn’t uncomfortable with messy.
Please, don’t ask if you’re not ready to listen. You might be the first person who has had the courage to ask us how we are managing, and you might get a very long, emotional answer. It might even be incoherent. Yet, the best friend a grieving person can have is often the one who is willing to just shut up and listen. Don’t even feel the need to respond– simply listening to us will be enough to make us feel like for a moment, we’re not isolated.
Remember, those who are grieving can feel alone in a room full of people. However, when we have the opportunity to talk about our story and hurt, we feel a little less alone in the world.
PLEASE refrain from using clichés with us, religious or otherwise.
If you have the courage to be available to a friend, have the courage to directly ask how we’re doing, and are prepared to listen, don’t ruin it by responding with some cliché or quoting a random Bible verse at us. We know you mean well, but this is hurtful. Our pain and grief can’t be assuaged by someone spouting off a few sentences at us.
For example, if I’m telling you about how painful it was to put a child’s stocking back in the box instead of hanging it by the chimney with care and you respond with “all things happen for good to them that love God,” just know that in those situations it strikes me as ethically permissible to punch someone in the face.
Send an encouraging note.
If you live far away, send a card or e-mail to tell us that you’re thinking of us and realize the holidays must be difficult this year. E-mails are great, but I feel as if we’ve lost the art and beauty of a letter that comes in the mail. Write a short, encouraging note, throw a stamp on it, and drop it in the mail to us. It just might come at the perfect time and give us that encouraging boost we need to make it through a difficult day.
Don’t take it personally if we don’t respond the way you might hope– or respond at all.
Because some of us (guilty as charged here) have this really difficult habit of self-isolating when we’re down or depressed. In those cycles, I promise we see and appreciate you reaching out, and that a lack of reply isn’t personal. In many cases, we feel a deep shame for not responding, which doesn’t help and tends to keep us in a downward spiral.
Stop by for a visit, and feel free to bring free alcohol with you.
Live locally? It can be a big encouragement to someone if you just come by for a personal visit to tell us that you’re thinking of us. When we’re overcome with grief we don’t often have the energy to reach out to people and need friends willing to take the initiative by reaching out to us. So, come see us! And feel free to obey the Holy Scriptures by bringing alcohol with you. For it is written:
“Give liquor to someone who is perishing, and wine to someone who is deeply depressed. Let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more.” Prov. 31:6-7
Remember: all we actually need or want from you, is to be a friend.
I fear that too often people grieve alone because those around them simply feel inadequate in reaching out. Please know that you’re not– you’re exactly what we need: an available friend. You don’t need any special skills, you don’t need magical answers, and you don’t actually have to bring us free booze (but that’s both kind and quite biblical). All you need is to be an available version of you. That’s it. That’s all we need.
This Christmas season, I hope that your life is wonderful and that you are full of Christmas cheer. However, I would encourage you to pause to remember that this isn’t the most wonderful time of the year for everyone— for some of us, this is the most difficult time of the year.
For those who grieve or experience depression during Christmas, this is the time when we most need your friendship and support. In fact, those small acts of friendship might be the best gift we receive for Christmas.
And so, the question becomes: Who in your life is grieving and might simply need an available version of you this holiday season?