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?
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I had a co-worker who lost his son about a week before Christmas a few years ago in a car accident. Right after I heard of the death, I ran to see how my friend was doing. Only thing, I had no idea what to say. I knew there were no quick answers. I still wanted to help. He was my friend, after all. After asking him how he was doing, he said that he was doing okay. I reassured him that I was here and that I really wanted to help. I asked him again, how he was doing — all he could do was cry. I didn’t interrupt or try to stop him. All I did was just stand there and watched. Perhaps I could have reassured him that everything was going to be okay, but it didn’t feel right. So, I just let him get it all out. Finally, after ten minutes or so, he reached out to me and gave me a hug. I still had no idea what to do at that point, but he thanked me and said that I was his true friend, that he was really glad I was there for him. I drop by and see him every now and then (especially at this time of the year) to see how he is doing. Some years are better than others, but last year (five years after the event) was one of the roughest Eric has had. I think he knows that I will always be there for him, even though I don’t have any answers….
Agreed; one shouldn’t forget the simple, central points of:
1. A good friend is a friend that’s THERE. Investing the time and energy to be engaged. That’s important.
2. A good friend is a friend that LISTENS. Interacting with people is a back and forth. That’s important.
They really are very true.
I agree so very much with this, especially about quoting trite religious platitudes. This Christmas will be one of the hardest on me yet.
I highly recommend ‘a christmas memory’ by truman capote, w geraldene page as miss sook (sooky). it came out in the 1960’s & comforted me greatly then as a grieving teen who was consantly depressed & suicidal. a dysfunc family will betray, abuse & abandon one who is most vulnerable. that’s just how they roll then & now. creativity that comes to one in their outcast state is the oasis in a desert! capote knew this but it was too late to save him from his train wreck of addiction to drugs & alcohol. still he left a gift of depth & understanding for those of us surviving profound alienation in our families at x’mas! */=*(
I don’t have all of the answers, that’s for sure! But as someone who grieves at times, I just want to add what can certainly help me. One thing, is simply thinking on the really good things that happen in my life. The latest, was just this last Sunday. My oldest Sis and I, we had drove over to the Dallas area, to babyset her youngest grandson. That while his parents worked an extra and new job Sunday morning. Just about an hours trip over there. Then Sis and I taking care of the little one for several hours. 🙂 Cody is around 14 months old now and maybe 22 lbs? I’m real hard of hearing and when this baby was born, the doctors thought he was deaf. 🙁 Just so glad now, that he can obviously hear better than they thought he could. 🙂 As we played with this young one, Sis finally worn out and had to sleep. (ha) Not surprised, after two of her kids coming in for Thanksgiving and their 4 little ones and spouses. So Sis fell asleep and I was watching and playing with little Cody. 🙂 After awhile, he gave out, crawled up in my lap, leaned back on my chest and fell asleep! 🙂 Wasn’t expecting that; but it was a good thing, as this great uncle was way tired too! LoL I needed a nap as well! 🙂 So just put my arms around Cody, figuring if he woke up, he couldn’t get up and into mischief, without waking me up too! 🙂 And like everyone, I have grief in my life and things I grieve about; but one thing that helps me more than about anything, is thinking on the great things that have also happened in my life. Some would think this such a small thing; but it’s not. It’s a great thing and a great thing for a memory, when a little one trusts you enough, just to crawl up in your lap and fall asleep! 🙂
Been there, done that – last year in fact. My mother and I had spent the past 5 years dealing with my father and his Alzheimer’s Disease, and the disasters that go along with it. We lost him on Oct 18. By Dec 12, it was obvious I was to exhausted to care for my 84-year-old mother, who was literally mourning herself to death. My sister packed her up and moved her to Memphis for awhile.
I was exhausted. It wasn’t necessarily the loss of my father as much as it was the fact that by Dec 21, I realized that no one in my family had even bothered with me. I’d not put up a tree. I was completely ignored by all but 1 friend. Any support system I should have had, even in my parish, did not exist. There were no cards, no friends dropping by with even a drop dead poinsettia. No invitations, no nothing. I was totally and completely alone. I’ve never been alone on Christmas Day before last Christmas. It was horrible. My mother finally roused herself enough to ask one of my nieces to send me a bottle of my favorite perfume, 4711 (not exactly an expensive gift) and a box of Godiva truffles. My sister sent me an Apple TV system for my birthday, a few weeks earlier – so I could set it up for our mother.
I was miserable. I cried, then sleep the entire day. A friend finally remembered to invite me to lunch, but I paid for my own. Other than one of the best friends a person could have, I was a non-person.
I’m going to be alone this Christmas. I doubt if I will put up a tree. Why bother? I’m making gifts for my mother, sister, and nieces, but don’t expect much in return. This year my sister gave me an Amazon gift card, so I bought a bunch of small ‘geek stuff’, I can wrap and put in a stocking – for myself. There’s very little money for much of anything.
The best way to be a friend is to leave your friend alone, unless they want you around them. Make sure you ask. You might also want to drop off a little something on their doorstep. If they are alone, and grieving, there is nothing worse than waking up on Christmas morning and realizing that not one single person in the whole world gives a damn if you are dead or alive. For years I was the ‘go-too’ person for our parish. If someone was alone at Christmas, I made sure they knew they were not forgotten. My parents were like that. You don’t do good deeds for a return on investments, but those who say good karma begets good karma are delusional.
At least I know what I face this year: Zilch Nada Nothing
No, I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I don’t want someone insisting I be a part of their family Christmas, then get there, and watch everyone gathering around their tree, opening things from their family. When we had people over at Christmas, who were alone that year, my mother and I always made sure they had numerous gifts. I don’t expect anything like that.
Like I said, if you are alone and grieving at Christmas, just be sure to understand that people really don’t give a damn. They will kick you when you are down, and laugh as you fall on your rear and slide in the ice. And – those are the people who attend your church.
I’m not selfish, just terribly cynical. Just be there. Give them a tacky cheap gift bag with a package of tacky cookies and a stale fruit cake. For your friend, alone and grieving, it will probably be more than they’ll get under their tree, which they won’t bother decorating.
When I lost my dad last year the thing that helped me the most were the friends and family who asked how I was doing and then listened to me as a talked about my father or who just sat quietly with me when I was so overwhelmed by grief that I could not speak.
Thank you for this, Ben. My mother died on Christmas Day last year. I know it’s going to be a rough day for me.
I’m 60 years old now. So I’ve lost a lot of loved ones-my Mom and Dad, aunts and uncles, some cousins, etc. And I really hate and miss seeing some of my family. Seldom see an ex-sister-in-law and her kids and grandkids. Well, an older brother of mine divorced her, a number of years ago now and that after they’d been married nearly 25 years and had 7 kids! Well, I love this brother; but I once told his wife that I knew she must love him or else she wouldn’t of put up with him all of those years! 🙂 LoL When I said that,she nearly fell on the floor laughing and my brother got mad at me! LoL And as I said later, after they got divorced, she was sitll my sister-in-law and a part of my family. I mean, my brother divorced his wife, I didn’t divorce my sister-in-law. 🙂 Well, a lot of people have passed on in my family and not all by death. Some, I just have no chance to see any more. That is saddening to me; but I think I have let it go too far? Instead of grieving, there are things I need to be doing in the here and now. Things to make my life better and happier, in the time I do have left, on this earth.
This whole idea is central to what Incarnation is all about. We need to grieve with those who grieve, and for many the holidays are a very difficult and painful time. Thanks for the great post!
I so wish you see these very real tears of grief to know how important this is … thank you!
please if you know someone is an alcoholic or has a drinking problem don’t bring the alcohol! */:0(
I would add: Allow my feelings to be real and important, and don’t belittle them, discount them or tfy to talk me out of them. I had several miscarriages over the first 10 years of our marriage, most of them near the Christmas season. For many years, this season was simply unbearable. People would say, “But that was 5 years ago. And that baby wasn’t even born!”. We left town several years just because we couldn’t hear those things.
Our true friends allowed us the grief they may or may not understand, but they let it be ours.
25 years ago my father passed away a couple of days before Thanksgiving. It was — not exactly unexpected — but quite a shock nonetheless. It took about five years for the holidays to be anything but traumatic for my sister and myself. We went through the motions for others, and fell apart inside. Your suggestions are right on the money. Listen. Let people talk. Be there, for whatever is needed.