“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” or so the song says. Certainly, the holidays are festive and carry an anticipation that is unique to this time of year. The nostalgia of the season pulls us toward one another. Friendships bend beyond themselves and become like family. Families gather and tell stories that everyone has heard but loves to hear again.
For some, the holidays resurrect old wounds and make us acutely aware of our grief—grief over the loss of a loved one, unmet expectations or broken relationships. As a loved one of someone who is grieving, it can be difficult to know how to enter into someone else’s pain. Sometimes, we put pressure on ourselves to fix the pain. Often, we become immobilized and at a loss for what to do.
So how do we walk with a loved one through the holidays in the midst of their grief? What does it look like to love someone well during the holidays?
Here are four simple questions and statements that can make all the difference.
“I don’t know what to say, but I’m here.”
Many of us are tempted to say nothing because we are afraid that we will somehow make the pain worse. You likely know and love someone who has walked through impossible circumstances—pain you can’t possibly imagine. Any words you have to offer feel insufficient. We don’t want to say the wrong thing, so we say nothing.
However, in doing so, we will likely unintentionally send a message that we do not mean to. Silence still speaks. Instead of staying quiet or putting pressure on ourselves to fix the pain, we are wise to communicate our heart instead of the perfect words. Saying something like, “I don’t know what to say, but I love you and I’m here,” usually communicates the heart of what we mean without having to have all the answers.
Silence still speaks.
“What has this cost you?”
When I walked through my own season of loss, one of the most healing questions a dear friend asked me was, “What has this loss cost you?” This question gave me permission to grieve not only the primary loss, but also all of the other losses attached to it.
Grief has ripple effects—an impact on relationships, changes in life circumstances and the loss of expectations, just to name a few. There is freedom in naming the loss even if we can’t change the loss.
There is freedom in naming the loss even if we can’t change the loss.
“Tell me more.”
As similar as our circumstances may be to a loved one’s situation, we bring our own wounds and stories to that pain. This makes it likely that we will experience the same pain differently from our loved one, and that’s OK. Instead of assuming we know what it’s like, let’s maintain a posture of curiosity and openness to our loved one’s experiences.
“I would love to do something.”
One of the most well-intentioned questions for someone who is grieving is, “Can I do anything?” While this question is certainly kind, the recipient will likely feel like they are asking too much to actually take you up on that offer.
One subtle change that is helpful is to commit to doing something first, taking the responsibility off of the recipient. “I would love to do something for you, what would be most helpful to you in this season?” lets the one who is grieving know that you have already committed to doing something. They simply get to choose what that thing is.
It’s painful to watch someone you love walk through grief. We feel powerless to make it different. Our efforts feel inadequate, but we should not underestimate the power of “being with.” Committing to walk alongside a loved one as they do the hard work of learning to walk in the dark is an immeasurable gift. Let’s give our loved ones that gift this holiday season.