Christmas is a hard time of year for those who are grieving. Not only does the festivity of the season remind the bereft of all they have lost, but it’s a time for getting together with loved ones, and the goneness of that one special person seems even more unfathomable when you are alone or alone in a crowd.
Grief makes everyone uneasy. It’s a reminder how vulnerable we really are. How, despite our beliefs, we know so very little of life and death. Even well-meaning people stumble around the bereft, suddenly clumsy in the face of grief, and this unnatural behavior makes the griever feel even more alone. Some people give looks of speculation, as if you are diseased and they’re wondering if they should step away so they don’t catch your illness. Or else they give you wrinkled-forehead looks of sympathy that make you feel even worse.
Shortly after the death of my life mate/soul mate, I noticed how uncomfortable people were around me, and how they wanted to say the right thing but didn’t know what the right thing was, so I offered suggestions in What to Say to Someone Who is Grieving. I can see there might be a special concern about saying the right thing at Christmas, but the truth is, there is no right thing. Nothing you can ever say will bring the bereft what they most need: life to make sense once more. (That might not be what we most want, but it is what we most need.)
If you know the person huggingly well, the best thing is a hug. If you knew the deceased, share a story. “I remember how Bob loved (or hated) Christmas.” Don’t assume that by ignoring the dead you are making things easier for the bereft. We remember, and it’s nice to know that others remember, too. One thing to never say is, “I know how you feel.” You don’t. You can’t. Even if you had a similar loss, everyone’s grief is different, every person is different, and by telling them you know how they feel, you are diminishing the truth of their grief. Also, don’t pressure them to tell you how they feel. Grief encompasses so many different emotions, it’s almost impossible to know how one feels. All you know is that you are in pain.
It seems such an emotional minefield, doesn’t it? But, whether you are family, good friends, or casual aquaintances, there is something you can say, something that is so common and almost rote that no one stops to analyze the words. And still these words manage to convey exactly what you want to say. (In fact, leaving off these words may make the person even worse since they will know how uncomfortable you are with their grief.)
So, what do you say to someone who is grieving at Christmas?
You say, “Merry Christmas.”
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.
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