If someone you know and care about has lost a loved one it can be extraordinarily difficult to see them experience such grief. You probably feel powerless to do anything about their pain. And as painful as it is for them, in a way you also are experiencing the loss because you want to be supportive but your efforts feel insignificant.
Of course that’s not the case. When you take some time to yourself you will remember that grief has seven very familiar and well documented stages that people move through when they experience loss. It is very important to remind yourself that your role is to support the needs of the individual experiencing grief but to also remember that no matter how much you would like to, you cannot speed up or bypass the process.
When you genuinely stand with somebody through their grieving process, that level of support has great meaning and it demonstrates extraordinary compassion and love.
When the loss occurs in the holiday season, the feelings of loss are significantly compounded. Grieving during the holidays is especially painful. For many people and families, holidays are rituals. Especially on occasions like Christmas and New Year. Because it’s such a significant time for family, grief at Christmas is especially painful.
At Christmas and throughout the holidays when the pain for your loved will seem acute, it could be necessary to at least fill in some of the void by occupying their time, if that’s what they want.
They may in the past been hosts at Christmas and those feelings of commitment remain even after a loss. It could be a case of helping, where possible, with cooking or cleaning and just generally relieving some of the burden. Of course some people will want to be busy to keep their minds occupied and that’s their way of processing gref. That should not be interfered with.
Sometimes we agonise over what to say to someone who is grieving. But it’s not what we say it’s being available for them. In general it is best to share their sorrow. Allow and encourage them to talk about their feelings of loss and to share their memories of the deceased.
There’s no point in offering false comfort. It doesn’t help a grieving person when people say “it was for the best” or “you will get over it in time”… Instead, offer a simple expression of sorrow, and take the time to listen.
As discussed, practical help is really important. Baby-sitting, cooking and helping with the shopping are all ways to help someone who is grieving. And most of all be patient.
Grief is not prescriptive. You can’t put a time on when somebody might move through the grieving process. Remember, it can take a long time to recover from a major loss. Make yourself available to talk when the person is ready.
If the feelings of loss feel insurmountable then it could be important to encourage your friend or family member to seek professional help. They may reject the idea at first but often it’s a case of planting the seed and waiting.
From the family at Southern Cross Funeral Directors (Sydney), we wish you all a safe and happy time during the festive season.
We understand the difficulties when dealing with the passing of a loved one at this time of year, so most of all we hope you are surrounded by the love and memories of your friends and families, which after all, is what makes this time of year special!