Support Someone Grieving During the Holidays

by Kim Meredith

We greet one another with “Happy Holidays!” but for some it’s not. Those who have lost a loved one during the year may find there is little to cheer.

Widowed at age 40, I couldn’t face my first Christmas without my husband, David. My 10-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter and I accepted my youngest sister’s invitation. We packed up the stockings, gifts, and holiday treats and headed for her charming country home in upstate New York. We returned two years to spend the holidays with her family.

The fourth year, we tackled the seasonal festivities at home by ourselves. Knowing I could not recreate the past, I started a new tradition. The kids decorated in their own style a second, smaller Christmas tree in the sunroom. Their creativity provided lots of laughs.

Author Kim Meredith
Author Kim Meredith

We carried on our tradition of a large, fresh-cut tree in the family room and adorned it with all of our tacky, homemade decorations.    

Even though the children have grown up, moved away and started their own families, the first ornament in place on my Christmas tree every year is a special blue ball that reads “David 1948”. 

Grief comes unannounced. It often stays too long. It can sneak up on you months, even years later. One moment you might be going forward in a positive direction and then a wave of grief washes over you like a giant tsunami.

Many years after the death of my husband, I gathered with my new husband, Tom, and my son and daughter and her husband to exchange gifts on Christmas morning.

Tom and I started to open identical small boxes with beautiful red ribbons from my daughter. Nested in tissue paper was a small red frame with a blurry, black and white ultrasound image. One read “Grandma & me” and the other “Grandpa & me”. Unable to wait for us to process the message, my daughter exclaimed, “You are going to be grandparents!” 

Whoosh! Here came a wave! Happiness. Sadness. Joy. Grief. It churned around me like an angry sea. Her father should be here. The happy tears mixed with sadness.

I’ve learned to be patient with myself during periods of grief. During the holidays, I plan to observe some old traditions, start new rituals, retell old stories, and make new

memories. If you are grieving this holiday season, here’s my advice.

Keep your expectations realistic. And if you need to retreat for a moment, go to a quiet room, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and feel the love from your dearly departed. They will always be in our hearts.

Tips to support someone grieving during the holidays:

Do List

  1. Invite those grieving to holiday activities. Let them decide if they want to attend and if so, offer to drive. If not, don’t take offense.
  2. Allow a person to show emotion, even if that means being sad.
  3. If there are moments of silence, hold the person’s hand and show you care.
  4. Mention the missing loved one by name in holiday conversations. Share memories.
  5. Be yourself. Don’t walk on eggshells. Listen to the whispers.

Don’t List

  1. Don’t promise everything will be fine.
  2. Don’t assume a person will have a good time at a holiday function. Provide an  opportunity to exit early.
  3. Don’t avoid grief.
  4. Don’t leave the person alone during a holiday gathering.
  5. Don’t try to recreate past memories.

About the Author: Kim Meredith is a published author, an inspirational speaker, and retired secondary Spanish teacher. Her workshops and writing are based on her life experiences growing up in a small town in upstate New York, and later, as a young widow in south central Pennsylvania. She maintains a blog on her website where she posts regular new stories. Kim is a contributing author to three books in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series: Tales of Christmas, The Gift if Christmas, and My Dog’s Life. She also has a story in the 2013 Military Writers Society of America anthology Our Voices and one in their 2014 anthology All Gave Some. In addition, two of her stories are published in the 2012 Open to Hope book, Inspirational Stories of Handling Spouse Loss.

She is currently working on free lance writing projects and is always looking for speaking opportunities.