“When you are grieving, sometimes you really don’t have the energy to be around people who are festive, to be festive yourself, and sometimes you don’t even have the energy to refuse someone who is persistent” said Gael Young, a recently widowed woman, who is grieving at Christmas.
As Gael opens another Christmas card, her heart sinks.
The card addresses her and her daughters, wishing them a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. But her husband’s name is nowhere in sight. This makes Gael feel as though she can’t talk about her husband and her loss when she needs to, and this “feels like a rejection/non-acceptances of parts of [her].”
As she receives another invitation to a Christmas party, she wishes people would understand that at this time—her first Christmas season without her husband—she may not be in a party mood.
Gael and her two daughters said goodbye to Jeff Young this year, and have been adjusting to their new normal. At this festive time of year, Gael is trying to prepare for her first Christmas without her life partner, and there are a lot of compromises to be made. Gael is trying to decide how to remember Jeff during the holidays, and to do so in a way that lifts up both her daughters, whose personalities are very different, and who will likely react in different ways to their first Christmas without their father.
Helping those who are grieving at Christmas
The holidays are a difficult time of year for the bereaved. Our “weird society,” as Gael puts it, doesn’t understand how to react to (and support) the grieving. We feel awkward about death, and in the process of avoiding these conversations, we often make things more painful for those who have lost loved ones. This time of year, it’s even more important that we show the grieving our understanding and availability. Those who work in bereavement agree that the best thing we can do for our friends and family who have lost loved ones is to offer our support—and support will look different for each grieving person.
Some people will want to look at photos and remember their loved ones who have passed, while others will want to talk about their memories. Yet others need alone time to remember and honor the ones they love. Help those who are grieving at Christmas by calling, acknowledging their loss, and offering to listen. You can also ask if they would like you to do something specific.
Finally, we need to understand that grief is never ending. Even if loss occurred decades ago, every holiday, people will want to remember their loved ones. If we want to truly support our friends and family, we, in the West, need to overcome our awkwardness with death and loss. As Gael says, “everyone dies, so you’d think we’d all have more experience/understanding of both death and grieving.”
Some practical ways you can support your grieving friends this holiday season are by respecting their need for space/not coming to parties; offering practical support with household tasks (ask them first!), sending holiday cards that acknowledge their loss, and offering to visit and simply sit with them and/or listen to their memories. As we continue to learn ways to respect and help the bereaved, we will make the holidays merrier for all.