If I were honest, I have been mentally (and emotionally) preparing for this season for quite some time. It not only encompasses two of my (and my mom’s) favorite holidays, but it is wrapped in birthdays and anniversaries, so a lot is going on! But this year is different. It’s now become something to survive, rather than special days to celebrate.
Needless to say, preparations have already been made. The takeout order for our Thanksgiving meal is set, and I dare not set foot in her favorite craft store. I’ve also made a point to cozy up with her blue blanket and a cup of cocoa as I’ve ugly cried to sappy Christmas movies on a few occasions.
It’s been a little over six months since I held my six-year-old’s hand and watched my mom’s casket be lowered into the ground. Since that day, grief has taken on many shapes and sizes. I am beginning to realize that grief isn’t linear but comes and goes in waves, having a rhythm all its own. There are painful reminders of my mom’s absence everywhere. I can’t manage to find peace and joy in this season no matter how hard I try, and social settings are not only awkward but, in some cases, completely isolating.
I have discovered months after losing my precious momma that grief changes you. It’s the unexpected journey nobody wants to take, so it’s often chartered alone. However, I could really use a trusted friend right about now. Unfortunately, many of them have gone silent. Maybe they don’t know what to say or feel it’s not worth mentioning since it’s been six months. Grief can be hard to navigate with friends; I understand that.
But, if you have a friend enduring a deep loss and grieving this holiday season, I encourage you to reach out because the silence is deafening. If you are unsure how to do that, here are a few things your grieving friend probably wishes you knew and gentle ways in which you can comfort them this holiday season.
Just Say (or Do) Something…But Be Sincere
The amount of support our family received the weeks after my mother passed was heartwarming. It truly was, and I am forever grateful to those that provided meals, cards, flowers, and help with childcare. But then, as if out of nowhere, it stopped. Completely.
Perhaps one of the hardest parts of this grief journey has been the avoidance and awkward silence. It’s as if my mother’s death instantly became the elephant in the room. Nobody knew what to say, so they didn’t say anything at all, or they didn’t acknowledge my loss in any way making small talk, leading us both in search of the nearest exit. Then there were responses that left me speechless, such as, “I’ve been meaning to send you a card or connect with you, but completely spaced or forgot.”
I get that life is busy. I’m a mom. It’s a busy season, and this time of year adds a whole new layer of stress. However, silence, feeling forgotten, and insincere comments can be hurtful. So, here are some words (and actions) that may provide comfort for your friend:
-Hand them the card, then apologize for your forgetfulness.
-Take them a coffee and ask if you can pray for them.
-Call, text, or send an encouraging Bible verse.
-Offer a healing and heartfelt hug.
-Simple statements of “I’m sorry” and “I’m here to listen” go a long way.
Be Patient with Them
It may be discouraging when you have reached out and tried to be a good friend, only to find they haven’t responded at all. Be patient with them. Healing from a loss that is so devastating takes time. Remember, this isn’t a linear type of growth. They will have good days and bad. It’s all a process, as grief brings unexpected highs and lows every day.
That being said, this time of year, as joyful as it is for many, isn’t so “holly and jolly” for your friend. It’s a stark reminder of who is missing. Try to be understanding if they decline an invite or step away from an event early.
They may treat this holiday differently than you thought but respect their time and decisions. Keep in mind that they are merely putting one foot in front of the other, going through the motions until January 2.
Here are some ways to extend patience to your grieving friend:
-Don’t push or make them feel bad for turning down an invite.
-Ask about their loved one and listen to how they used to celebrate the holidays together.
-Remind them to take the time they need this season and that you are ready to meet up whenever they are.
-Offer your time and let them know you are willing to be a crying shoulder whenever they need one.
-Wrap your love in forgiveness and know they may react in emotional haste or come across in a way that is unlike them. Grief is often messy and can bring about all kinds of emotions.
Don’t Compare Their Grief
I got a random text from a friend I hadn’t heard from in years. She invited me out to dinner, and I reluctantly agreed. Something in my heart warned me not to go, but I desperately needed a friend, so I went.
She broke the awkward silence by asking about my mother, which I was thankful for, so I proceeded to tell the story of what happened the best I could muster and manage. Then she said three words that instantly set me aback: “Well, at least…” The whelp in my throat grew as I forced back the sting of tears and tried to politely smile, as I do believe she was just trying to be sympathetic. But in all honesty, I am not sure what she said after those three words.
Here is the thing about grief. We will all encounter it at some point, and every story is different and should all be heard in the right timing. However, when your friend is walking through a season of deep grief and painful “firsts,” please be gentle with them and their heart.
Resist the urge to relate in some way by comparing it to something you are going through, as it only makes their grief feel invalidated. Common platitudes or cliches, such as “At least they are in a better place” or “I understand how you feel when I lost…” may be said with the best of intentions, but they generally come across as disingenuous.
Here are some ways to support and console your grieving friend while validating the season of grief they are currently walking through.
-If they agree to meet up, please understand it may not be easy for them to be around others, so be gentle in your approach.
-Invite them to share their story if and when they are ready, then listen attentively.
-Try not to project your own experiences with loss onto your friend. Loss is a personal journey and should be seen as such.
-Realize they may not be ready to talk, so sometimes a casual conversation is best, but try to take their lead on this.
-Try to refrain from offering unsolicited advice such as, “Get more sleep” or “Stay positive.” These comments can sound condescending. Rather, let them know you are praying for God to bring them His peace and comfort.
They Feel Bad for Being Absent-Minded
The grief your friend currently carries has changed them; they know this, and it truly hurts them that they don’t have the emotional energy to keep up with the things they once did. They often secretly feel bad for forgetting birthdays or special occasions. They also want to attend social events but don’t always feel they know their place anymore.
Their role has changed, and with it comes a fallout in many areas of their life, including the things they once loved and enjoyed. Now, with the holidays approaching, reminders of their loved ones are everywhere, often causing them to lose sight of their everyday responsibilities.
The days are already filled with tasks your friend can barely manage, then add the stressors of the holidays and the heavy weight of grief; it can all be too much at times. This can eventually make your grieving friend feel like they are letting others down, becoming a disappointment.
Here are some ways you can step in and help your friend feel forgiven for mishaps and that they still hold a valuable place in your life:
-Don’t make them feel bad for forgetting an important day.
-Remind them of all the good things they are still doing.
-Take their children for a day in order to give them a moment to seek rest and sit in their grief.
-Offer real support, such as, “I can bring dinner by this Wednesday or bring you groceries on Thursday evening.”
-Follow up with them on events with simple and sweet reminders.
Navigating a friendship being tested by a profound loss is not for the faint of heart. It’s surely not easy and can be somewhat uncomfortable at times, but in helping a friend wade through the murky waters of grief, know that your efforts are not only seen by your hurting friend but by our loving Father. Coming from a place of grief myself, I can tell you it is a lonely journey, but the connection with a true friend is invaluable. So, may God provide you with meaningful ways to bless, love, and support your grieving friend this holiday season, and may it also richly bless you.
Photo credit: © Getty Images/Kerkez
Alicia Searl is a devotional author, blogger, and speaker that is passionate about pouring out her heart and pointing ladies of all ages back to Jesus. She has an education background and master’s in literacy. Her favorite people call her Mom, which is why much of her time is spent cheering them on at a softball game or dance class. She is married to her heartthrob (a tall, spiky-haired blond) who can whip up a mean latte. She sips that goodness while writing her heart on a page while her puppy licks her feet. Visit her website at aliciasearl.com and connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.