How To Be A Better Friend To Someone Who Grieves At Christmas

How To Be A Better Friend To Someone Who Grieves At Christmas December 2, 2015

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For some, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year– but that’s not true for all of us. It’s quite likely that out of your mix of friends or church family, there are some in your life who will spend the holidays grieving. Here’s a few ideas as to how you could be a better friend to them while they grieve at Christmas:

Be a friend who is available.

A friend really isn’t much of a friend if they don’t feel available. Want to mourn with those who mourn? Simply develop a spirit of availability and sensitivity to those in your life who might be quietly grieving during the holidays. Since we’re well aware nothing could replace our loss, we’re not looking for someone to try to fix things– just an available you in our lives will do just fine.

If you have a posture of unavailability to a grieving friend, that only increases the sense of loss and sadness– instead, be available and let them know that you are there for them. Don’t step away from your grieving friends simply because it’s uncomfortable for you– be willing to be uncomfortable.

 Don’t think we want you to pretend that nothing is wrong.

We don’t. When someone is grieving a loss, those around them may have a tendency to avoid the issue thinking that it helps them get it off their minds. Well, I have a newsflash for you: it’s always on our minds.

When folks pretend that nothing is wrong and avoid the issue of loss, it actually has the opposite effect than what is intended. When everyone else appears to be ignoring the loss, our feelings of grief fail to be validated– and lack of emotional validation can drive someone mad. Feel free to bring it up in conversation– we’re not going to be upset with you, we might even thank you for doing so.

Directly ask us how we’re doing.

In line with the previous point, sometimes we’re desperate for someone to ask us how we’re doing. A direct question gives us permission to talk about the loss and permission to talk about our feelings. People who are grieving, especially when it is an issue of extended grief, worry that they’re being that one friend who’s always a downer. Because of that, we too often may keep the issue to ourselves out of fear that hearing about our grief will be too much for you.

We know that our pain is making the holidays difficult for us, and don’t want to feel like we’re dragging you down with us. However, when you directly ask, we feel permission to be real– and we need to be real.

Listen.

Please, don’t ask if you’re not ready to listen. You might be the first person who has had the courage to ask us how we are managing, and you might get a very long, emotional answer. It might even be incoherent. Yet, the best friend a grieving person can have is often the one who is willing to just shut up and listen. Don’t even feel the need to respond– simply listening to us will be enough to make us feel like for a moment, we’re not isolated.

Remember, those who are grieving can feel alone in a room full of people. However, when we have the opportunity to talk about our story and hurt, we feel a little less alone in the world.

PLEASE don’t use clichés with us, religious or otherwise.

If you have the courage to be available to a friend, have the courage to directly ask how we’re doing, and are prepared to listen, don’t ruin it by responding with some cliché or quoting a random Bible verse at us. We know you mean well, but this is hurtful. Our pain and grief can’t be assuaged by someone spouting off a few sentences at us.

For example, if I’m telling you about how painful it was to put a child’s stocking back in the box instead of hanging it by the chimney with care, and you respond with “all things happen for good to them that love God,” just know that as I politely smile and nod, I am actually giving you the finger in my mind. Two of them, actually.

 Send an encouraging note.

If you live far away, send a card or e-mail to tell us that you’re thinking of us and realize the holidays must be difficult this year. E-mails are great, but I feel as if we’ve lost the art and beauty of a letter that comes in the mail. Write a short, encouraging note, throw a stamp on it, and drop it in the mail to us. It just might come at the perfect time and give us that encouraging boost we need to make it through a difficult day.

Stop by for a visit, and feel free to bring alcohol with you.

Live locally? It can be a big encouragement to someone if you just come by for a personal visit to tell us that you’re thinking of us. When we’re overcome with grief we don’t often have the energy to reach out to people and need friends willing to take the initiative by reaching out to us. So, come see us! And feel free to obey the Holy Scriptures by bringing alcohol with you. For it is written:

“Give liquor to someone who is perishing, and wine to someone who is deeply depressed. Let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more.” Prov 31:6-7

 Remember: all we actually need or want from you, is to be a friend.

I fear that too often people grieve alone because those around them simply feel inadequate in reaching out. Please know that you’re not– you’re exactly what we need: an available friend. You don’t need any special skills, you don’t need magical answers, and you don’t actually have to bring us free booze (but that’s both kind and quite biblical). All you need is to be an available version of you. That’s it. That’s all we need.

This Christmas season, I hope that your life is wonderful and that you are full of Christmas cheer. However, I would encourage you to stop and remember that this isn’t the most wonderful time of the year for everyone– for some of us, this is the most difficult time of the year.

For those who grieve at Christmas, this is the time when we most need your friendship and support. In fact, those small acts of friendship might be the best gift we receive for Christmas.

And so, the question becomes: who in your life is grieving and might need an available version of you for Christmas?

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  • gimpi1

    25 years ago my father passed away a couple of days before Thanksgiving. It was — not exactly unexpected — but quite a shock nonetheless. It took about five years for the holidays to be anything but traumatic for my sister and myself. We went through the motions for others, and fell apart inside. Your suggestions are right on the money. Listen. Let people talk. Be there, for whatever is needed.

    Well done.

  • jjuulie

    I would add: Allow my feelings to be real and important, and don’t belittle them, discount them or tfy to talk me out of them. I had several miscarriages over the first 10 years of our marriage, most of them near the Christmas season. For many years, this season was simply unbearable. People would say, “But that was 5 years ago. And that baby wasn’t even born!”. We left town several years just because we couldn’t hear those things.

    Our true friends allowed us the grief they may or may not understand, but they let it be ours.

  • please if you know someone is an alcoholic or has a drinking problem don’t bring the alcohol! */:0(

  • Herm

    I so wish you see these very real tears of grief to know how important this is … thank you!

  • JenellYB

    I think that would be a no-brainer.

  • you would be surprised how many ppl don’t understand that alkies cannot have even one drink darlin’! */;D

  • This whole idea is central to what Incarnation is all about. We need to grieve with those who grieve, and for many the holidays are a very difficult and painful time. Thanks for the great post!

    http://godsfoolishness.blogspot.com

  • RonnyTX

    Jjuulie, it truly astounds me sometimes, the stupid and ignorant things some people can say, to someone in a situation as you have been in! :-( Mercy, I thought I was the last of 7 kids, the baby of the family; :-) but I think I was 40 years old when my Mom told me that she had gotten pregnant again, after I was born. Then later, had a miscarriage. And I could see how that still hurt her, even though such had happened over 35 to 40 years before this! I could still see the pain on her face, as she told me about this. And what pained my Mom, pained me. But later I got to thinking about it and I really liked the fact that I was no longer the baby of the family! (ha) :-) And what made me even happier, was realizing that in the future, I’m going to get to meet and know that little brother or sister of mine! My, I do look forward to that! :-) Oh my yes, I so look forward to gettting to meet him and her and a whole lot of other people, as well. Well, you and yours, for one. :-)

  • RonnyTX

    I’m 60 years old now. So I’ve lost a lot of loved ones-my Mom and Dad, aunts and uncles, some cousins, etc. And I really hate and miss seeing some of my family. Seldom see an ex-sister-in-law and her kids and grandkids. Well, an older brother of mine divorced her, a number of years ago now and that after they’d been married nearly 25 years and had 7 kids! Well, I love this brother; but I once told his wife that I knew she must love him or else she wouldn’t of put up with him all of those years! :-) LoL When I said that,she nearly fell on the floor laughing and my brother got mad at me! LoL And as I said later, after they got divorced, she was sitll my sister-in-law and a part of my family. I mean, my brother divorced his wife, I didn’t divorce my sister-in-law. :-) Well, a lot of people have passed on in my family and not all by death. Some, I just have no chance to see any more. That is saddening to me; but I think I have let it go too far? Instead of grieving, there are things I need to be doing in the here and now. Things to make my life better and happier, in the time I do have left, on this earth.

  • Snooterpoot

    Thank you for this, Ben. My mother died on Christmas Day last year. I know it’s going to be a rough day for me.

  • When I lost my dad last year the thing that helped me the most were the friends and family who asked how I was doing and then listened to me as a talked about my father or who just sat quietly with me when I was so overwhelmed by grief that I could not speak.

  • Snooterpoot

    I’m sorry, James. I lost my dad on July 15 last year, and my mom on Christmas Day. I can understand how you feel.

    Sometimes I just have to concentrate on taking the next breath. When someone honestly listens to me, I feel better.

  • Thanks, I am sorry for your losses. Losing one parent was hard I can not imagine losing both my parents I so short a time. Even a year later I am sometimes overwhelmed.

  • Snooterpoot

    Mom and Dad would have been married for 64 years this past March. My mom had been very sick for a very long time, and losing dad left her not knowing how to live. I had the great blessing of being by her side and holding her hand when she died.

    Even though we don’t know each other, I’ll think about you during this difficult time of the year. And, if you ever need someone to talk (type) to, you can email me at snooterpoot@gmail.com.

  • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

    Leviticus 19:19 Keep my decrees. Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.

    We’re in so much trouble!

    Leviticus 19:27 Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.

    Dun dun dun!

    As a side note, very classy derailing a thread about grief into a discussion about homosexuality. Very classy.

  • Been there, done that – last year in fact. My mother and I had spent the past 5 years dealing with my father and his Alzheimer’s Disease, and the disasters that go along with it. We lost him on Oct 18. By Dec 12, it was obvious I was to exhausted to care for my 84-year-old mother, who was literally mourning herself to death. My sister packed her up and moved her to Memphis for awhile.

    I was exhausted. It wasn’t necessarily the loss of my father as much as it was the fact that by Dec 21, I realized that no one in my family had even bothered with me. I’d not put up a tree. I was completely ignored by all but 1 friend. Any support system I should have had, even in my parish, did not exist. There were no cards, no friends dropping by with even a drop dead poinsettia. No invitations, no nothing. I was totally and completely alone. I’ve never been alone on Christmas Day before last Christmas. It was horrible. My mother finally roused herself enough to ask one of my nieces to send me a bottle of my favorite perfume, 4711 (not exactly an expensive gift) and a box of Godiva truffles. My sister sent me an Apple TV system for my birthday, a few weeks earlier – so I could set it up for our mother.

    I was miserable. I cried, then sleep the entire day. A friend finally remembered to invite me to lunch, but I paid for my own. Other than one of the best friends a person could have, I was a non-person.

    I’m going to be alone this Christmas. I doubt if I will put up a tree. Why bother? I’m making gifts for my mother, sister, and nieces, but don’t expect much in return. This year my sister gave me an Amazon gift card, so I bought a bunch of small ‘geek stuff’, I can wrap and put in a stocking – for myself. There’s very little money for much of anything.

    The best way to be a friend is to leave your friend alone, unless they want you around them. Make sure you ask. You might also want to drop off a little something on their doorstep. If they are alone, and grieving, there is nothing worse than waking up on Christmas morning and realizing that not one single person in the whole world gives a damn if you are dead or alive. For years I was the ‘go-too’ person for our parish. If someone was alone at Christmas, I made sure they knew they were not forgotten. My parents were like that. You don’t do good deeds for a return on investments, but those who say good karma begets good karma are delusional.

    At least I know what I face this year: Zilch Nada Nothing

    No, I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I don’t want someone insisting I be a part of their family Christmas, then get there, and watch everyone gathering around their tree, opening things from their family. When we had people over at Christmas, who were alone that year, my mother and I always made sure they had numerous gifts. I don’t expect anything like that.

    Like I said, if you are alone and grieving at Christmas, just be sure to understand that people really don’t give a damn. They will kick you when you are down, and laugh as you fall on your rear and slide in the ice. And – those are the people who attend your church.

    I’m not selfish, just terribly cynical. Just be there. Give them a tacky cheap gift bag with a package of tacky cookies and a stale fruit cake. For your friend, alone and grieving, it will probably be more than they’ll get under their tree, which they won’t bother decorating.

  • My parents were married for almost 59 years. Dad died surrounded by his family. All his children and my mother were at his side when he died and everyone took turns holding his hands. You will be in my thoughts as well.

  • RonnyTX

    I don’t have all of the answers, that’s for sure! But as someone who grieves at times, I just want to add what can certainly help me. One thing, is simply thinking on the really good things that happen in my life. The latest, was just this last Sunday. My oldest Sis and I, we had drove over to the Dallas area, to babyset her youngest grandson. That while his parents worked an extra and new job Sunday morning. Just about an hours trip over there. Then Sis and I taking care of the little one for several hours. :-) Cody is around 14 months old now and maybe 22 lbs? I’m real hard of hearing and when this baby was born, the doctors thought he was deaf. :-( Just so glad now, that he can obviously hear better than they thought he could. :-) As we played with this young one, Sis finally worn out and had to sleep. (ha) Not surprised, after two of her kids coming in for Thanksgiving and their 4 little ones and spouses. So Sis fell asleep and I was watching and playing with little Cody. :-) After awhile, he gave out, crawled up in my lap, leaned back on my chest and fell asleep! :-) Wasn’t expecting that; but it was a good thing, as this great uncle was way tired too! LoL I needed a nap as well! :-) So just put my arms around Cody, figuring if he woke up, he couldn’t get up and into mischief, without waking me up too! :-) And like everyone, I have grief in my life and things I grieve about; but one thing that helps me more than about anything, is thinking on the great things that have also happened in my life. Some would think this such a small thing; but it’s not. It’s a great thing and a great thing for a memory, when a little one trusts you enough, just to crawl up in your lap and fall asleep! :-)

  • Herm

    SJ, thank you for sharing! Share more, please! Really, really, really you are loved and worthy!

  • Aww. :( Sending love, Snooterpoot.

  • Snooterpoot

    Thank you, Enesvy.

  • paganheart

    Indeed. Perhaps that’s another example of being a true friend, as Ben noted. Friends listen, and know what we need (or don’t need.) I choose not to drink myself; if I were grieving, or otherwise in crisis, a true friend would know (among other things listed here) to bring me copious amounts of chocolate instead of alcohol, or tickets to a show by a favorite band (and a promise to drag me out of the house–literally, if necessary–to attend.) In fact, I have a friend who has done just that.

  • I highly recommend ‘a christmas memory’ by truman capote, w geraldene page as miss sook (sooky). it came out in the 1960’s & comforted me greatly then as a grieving teen who was consantly depressed & suicidal. a dysfunc family will betray, abuse & abandon one who is most vulnerable. that’s just how they roll then & now. creativity that comes to one in their outcast state is the oasis in a desert! capote knew this but it was too late to save him from his train wreck of addiction to drugs & alcohol. still he left a gift of depth & understanding for those of us surviving profound alienation in our families at x’mas! */=*(

  • Thank you. It will all go into a book I’m doing on my father’s AD. I was smart enough to start blogging about it the day we received his diagnosis. I just haven’t had the heart to start turning it into a book, yet. Thank you very much. Bless you.

  • Then I will want the kitten. I have a cat problem. Baby is sleeping in her ‘box’ in front of me. Hoss Cartwright just finished helping me by walking across the keyboard. B(r)at Masterson is having a hissy fit with Madam. Bubbles is in another box on the floor!

    I think one of the things that hurt so much – this week, was down at my mother’s home we discovered that my father’s favorite cat had died in his sleep, there near my father’s favorite place to read. It was the first time I really cried. Sam was 15. I swear, he died from grief.

    Thank you. Bless you.

  • Herm

    You bless us to risk to share your vulnerable heart, thank you for valuing us. There are many here who know your exhaustion to be no longer able to serve those you love, your mix relief with grief that continues to give value to your father, and the empty feeling of abandonment as relationships must change. All alone, within the deepest of grief, at 50 years of age, when it seemed as if had surely lost everything forever more, I thanked God that I had first been blessed with so very much, including being able to serve those I had been graced to love, and second that I had been helped by God all along the way to be able to allow myself to feel and value the entire pain of value lost where as a child I had had to blocked feelings this deep just to survive. You and I are blessed to honestly, without blocking be able to know and feel the true worth of our losses.

    Though this is a low time of alone reflection I can honestly testify that God will gift you more of even greater value that you will know better to how savor during than ever before even when you think you aren’t ready. Life is an all too short opportunity to share. You are not really ever alone.

    Keep sharing with us but please be aware that all we might have to share in return, that might look to others as a tacky cheap gift bag, is truly offered in sincere love. Thank you!

  • Thank you. It has been a time of reflection. I have 1 book of essays in edits that I’ve done over the past few years. It has been difficult, but I know we are given difficult things in order to learn how to over-come them to be there for others. Helping care-givers & and dealing with AD has become a soap-box for me. I think with AD, the loss comes when you learn of the diagnosis. The problem is, if you choose to keep your loved one at home, like my family did, the battle begins. You don’t have time for reflection. It was an amazing time. I don’t think I would trade it for the world.

    I think it was all worth it the way things ended. My father had been feeling badly. He never lost a sense of himself. We were well into Stage 6, and were basically experimenting on him, via nutrition and supplements. We took him off his AD meds months earlier. (Don’t even get me started on that subject).

    He had just picked at dinner. I hate cooking, but had fixed one of his favorite Chinese meals. Finally we gave up getting him to eat. I was in a hurry, wanting to clean the kitchen and go watch “Porgy & Bess”. He told my mother he wanted to pray. I was a little sarcastic, but sat down at the table, and almost flippantly thanked the Lord for opera.

    My father said, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”

    Those were his last lucid words. He went critical a few hours later, due to internal bleeding. Twenty-four hours after his prayer, we had him in the hospital, just keeping him comfortable. He was napping after Last Rites. He went to be with the Lord doing his very favorite thing – napping.

    It was the most peaceful thing I ever experienced. I think that helped with the grief. Then – came the exhaustion and worry about my mother.

    Thank you so much. It all goes into a book. I just heard from a friend of mine who is a retired nun. The woman is amazing. Her words of wisdom are almost exactly as are yours. That is not coincidence.

  • It was only last year that I lost my father to cancer and you are so right that the most comforting thing someone can do is to not pretend that it does not change how Christmas feels to you. This year is better but the Christmas season will never be quite the same for me.

  • Herm

    Thank you so much for comparing me with your friend who actually is wise. In the image of God we are at our best when we get the privilege to support others. We can never earn in sharing our grace and we can never earn the grace of all who are there to share theirs in our times of need. It seems from what I sense that you have been graced that which you need the most right now; a space that you would not have chosen yourself to pause seemingly alone to reflect on what you blessings you have been blessed. It is a precious but not easy, too often painful, time for you to let down, recover and re-create from your exhaustion gained in demanding service to love. As you heal it is God’s way that He will serve you best by once again pulling you out of your introspective self to serve and be served. We love our merciful neighbor only to the degree we can love ourselves so be somewhat selfish, not self centered and indulgent but selfishly treasure the gift you can be to others. In everything we cannot do as we would have others do to us unless we know what we would have others do for us in our times of need. Love is complete only when it is recognized reciprocally. Yesterday you gave in love and today you must pause to receive in love so that tomorrow your cup is running over to share.

    Eternal life, to me, is so worth the journey when shared exactly in that way. We mature into God as Their little child today ever growing that by the end we find ourselves fully in the service of the love of others as is God today for us.

    You are loved with a divine love you cannot earn and worthy of ever so much more. Thank you for sharing you with us! May your pain be less today and your joy increase. Love you!

  • I agree so very much with this, especially about quoting trite religious platitudes. This Christmas will be one of the hardest on me yet.

  • That is beautiful. Very much like what she says. Just a fountain of wisdom – which is a special gift from the Lord.

    Bless you!

  • Agreed; one shouldn’t forget the simple, central points of:
    1. A good friend is a friend that’s THERE. Investing the time and energy to be engaged. That’s important.
    2. A good friend is a friend that LISTENS. Interacting with people is a back and forth. That’s important.
    They really are very true.

  • Don Lowery

    With my birthday happening on the 28th (always being told that Xmas was more important than my birthday from when I was a toddler…as well as living in poverty)…getting divorced about 25 years ago then having many bad things happening at this time of year…in addition to having worked in commercial radio for about 20 where I was inundated by that incessant music…this time of year has always been a struggle just to get through a day…an hour…a minute at a time. Celebration…if I usually make it to after New Years is another year…is time to celebrate. On the other hand…the last 2-3 years has gotten better…especially when it seems like everyone I know makes sure I’m not totally alone…unlike what the past 50 years have been like.

  • Don Lowery

    Because of the same BS with my blood relatives as you had (never knew what family ever was…until having members of my church take on that role with them knowing what my situation is) made a very conscious decision over 20 years ago to not deal with any of my blood relatives…no matter what situation may come. Took me about 30 years of my life to realize that no matter what I may or may not do…it will not make a difference.

    As for this story…just discovered that I had a copy of it I haven’t watched yet. Thank you for the recommendation to give me something to watch and learn from!

  • I had a co-worker who lost his son about a week before Christmas a few years ago in a car accident. Right after I heard of the death, I ran to see how my friend was doing. Only thing, I had no idea what to say. I knew there were no quick answers. I still wanted to help. He was my friend, after all. After asking him how he was doing, he said that he was doing okay. I reassured him that I was here and that I really wanted to help. I asked him again, how he was doing — all he could do was cry. I didn’t interrupt or try to stop him. All I did was just stand there and watched. Perhaps I could have reassured him that everything was going to be okay, but it didn’t feel right. So, I just let him get it all out. Finally, after ten minutes or so, he reached out to me and gave me a hug. I still had no idea what to do at that point, but he thanked me and said that I was his true friend, that he was really glad I was there for him. I drop by and see him every now and then (especially at this time of the year) to see how he is doing. Some years are better than others, but last year (five years after the event) was one of the roughest Eric has had. I think he knows that I will always be there for him, even though I don’t have any answers….