Helping Your Loved One Cope with Grief during the Holidays

December 21, 2015

Watching someone you love grieve the loss of a spouse can be a wrenching and helpless experience; during the holiday time, it can feel a lot more challenging. If it’s mom or dad who’s grieving, you’re likely sharing that loss yourself; there’s also the simple reality that holiday time is saturated with family memories. Nothing can erase mom’s pain, nor should it – meaningful grieving is essential to healing. But there are ways you can help her navigate this tough time of year and maybe even help her experience joyful moments amidst the sadness:

  • Let Mom do what feels right in terms of participating in the festivities, while keeping a watchful eye. She’ll likely feel the need to scale back on holiday celebrations; that’s normal and appropriate. But work with your siblings or mom’s friends to make sure she’s not isolating herself by spending an abnormal amount of time alone. If she feels up to it, encourage her to take a buddy to events who can offer support and assist in an early exit if necessary.
  • Help Mom to incorporate her loss into this year’s expression of the holiday, whether it be through creating a new tradition or amending an old one. Offer to create a memory box that all could contribute to, through drawings and photos or written memories. If Dad always led the tree trimming, perhaps ask an older grandchild to take the lead, and read a poem or share a memory of Grandpa before hanging the first ornament. Light a candle at the holiday table to honor him, with a brief moment of silence. Or extend the usual toast or meal prayer with brief spoken tributes; you could also sing Dad’s favorite holiday song.
  • Sometimes the best way to feel better is to extend a helping hand to someone else in need. If mom normally gives to a holiday toy drive, for example, offer to take her shopping and help her with the gift drop-off. Or work with her to identify a meaningful charity to support in Dad’s memory. Giving back during times of personal sorrow can feel reassuring and life-affirming for Mom, and for you too.

If your grieving parent is open to joining a support group, check in with your local senior center or church community; they often offer grief sharing groups at holiday time. The GriefShare organization has chapters around the country dedicated to guiding survivors through grieving the loss of a loved one. There are also wonderful books that deal with grief over the holidays; click here for a list of ones we like.