It’s that time of year again. And no matter how much we might like to try, there is no way to stop the clock. It’s coming. It’s Christmas. It’s the time of year that can be the most difficult for anyone dealing with a recent (or not-so-recent) loss. Often, the emotions associated with the loss of a loved one are as cyclical as the seasons; and can be directly affected by them.
If you are someone who surfs the internet or strolls the aisles of Barnes & Noble, you know that there are dozens upon dozens of websites and books available to help grieving individuals cope with their feelings through the holidays. That’s why today I would like to talk with the rest of you ~ the friends and neighbors and co-workers of the grieving ones. I’d like to talk with all of you about what you can do to help.
My first suggestion is: just listen. If the person is open about their feelings, let them talk. A sympathetic look, a nod of the head or a gentle touch on the shoulder will go a long way. And while you may believe that sharing your own experience with grief will make the person feel better, it probably will not; and might have the opposite affect. Instead, consider asking a thoughtful question or offer a gentle reminder that what they are feeling is a natural part of the process. Depending on the situation, you might take a more light- hearted approach. Work with whatever demonstrates that you recognize their grief and you offer your support.
On the other hand, not everyone is willing to express their pain, but we can usually see that it’s there just the same. My second suggestion is that if you find yourself worrying about the neighbor who insists that they are okay, all the while looking like they haven’t slept in a week, don’t hesitate to extend some honest concern. Even though people don’t always want to bring up the subject, they are often relieved when someone else does. That’s not to say that you should insist they admit their feelings, but start by admitting yours. You are concerned. You do not wish to see them struggling. You want to help…to do the right thing; but you aren’t sure what that is. Don’t be surprised if the response you get is a highly emotional one. Sometimes people just need that nudge – that implied permission to let go of their feelings. It is also entirely possible your sincerity will be met with feigned agreement, quickly dismissed by the urgent need to confirm the week’s weather report. If that happens, don’t push. You have put an offer on the table to help. They will accept it when they are ready to.
Having someone to share our feelings with is extremely valuable. Remember that the person you are trying to help has lost that someone. So you may find that there are times when the best thing you can do is not to focus on helping them with their grief, but rather help them focus on celebrating the season ~ help them to recall happy memories and perhaps to make a few new ones.