If your loved one is dealing with grief at Christmas, it can be difficult to know how to help them. Grief is an intense, upward struggle that can feel relentless, and coping with grief at Christmas can be especially hard.
It might be their first Christmas grieving a loss or their tenth; grief at Christmas isn't easy because the festive period is typically filled with happy times and celebrations. This means that those grieving have to deal with the memories that are relived during the Christmas period. Not to mention the constant stream of happy families portrayed in the media throughout this time.
Here are some practical ways to help a friend or family member navigate their way through coping with grief at Christmas.
Thoughtful presents can help someone who is grieving
Gifts for those grieving don't have to be expensive or complex, and there are some beautiful options out there for every budget. Some companies have pre-made sympathy care packages. Or you could create your own DIY package with things that you know they'll enjoy. For example, comforting drinks like hot chocolate or tea bags, a scented candle, sleep spray and a book you know they'll enjoy.
If you're looking for something meaningful that they can treasure forever, we have designed a range of memorial and bereavement jewellery that's been sympathetically created to offer a beautiful way of remembering somebody and keeping them close forever. A thoughtful gift from this range might be a lovely way for them to remember their loved one at Christmas.
Books can help too
There are some specialist books out there that can help people who are grieving. For example, Things I've Learned About Loss by Dana Shields, The Madness of Grief by Reverend Richard Coles, It's OK That You're Not OK by Megan Devine. There are also books written specifically for children to help them deal with and understand grief. These include The Memory Box: A Book About Grief by Joanna Rowland, The Sad Dragon by Steve Herman and The Invisible String by Patrice Karst.
Focus on listening rather than talking
Give your loved one the space to open up if they want to, even if it can be difficult to know what to say. Of course, your instinct will be to try and make them feel better, but grief is a complex feeling, and reassurance doesn't always help. Sometimes, it's better just to listen and let them get everything out. Even if you're both sitting in silence, try to resist the urge to fill the silence. Just sitting quietly and having your loved one know that you're there for them is important, and it could be more therapeutic for them than you realise. If they cry, let them cry because expressing sadness is an important part of grief and the healing journey.
Encourage them to write down their feelings
When talking about how they're feeling is too hard, writing feelings down is a good way for them to get their emotions out. The important thing is that your loved one doesn't bottle everything up and keep everything inside. So, whether they're writing their feelings down or talking about them, try to encourage them to feel comfortable enough to communicate. You could also buy them a journal and a pen to encourage them to do it.
Offer practical support and assistance
It's common for grieving people not to want to ask for help. They might worry about feeling like they're a burden or simply be feeling too low to reach out to anyone. Instead of saying something general like "Let me know if I can do anything" – ask them specifically if there's anything they need. For example, "I'm going to the supermarket tomorrow, what do you need?" Or "When can I pop along and drop off some books, or the cake I've baked, or this meal I've made that you can eat or put in the freezer?" Other practical ideas include helping with funeral arrangements or paperwork like insurance forms or bills, doing the housework, driving them where they need to go, looking after their pets or picking up their children from school.
Help them celebrate Christmas in a different way
If they are recently bereaved or are still grieving a loss, they may either feel that they don't wish to celebrate Christmas this year or they may want to celebrate as normal. Alternatively, they might want to try out something different and create some new traditions. Whatever they feel comfortable with is the best way for them to spend the day – and let them know that it's their decision to make; they shouldn't feel pressured into doing something they're not comfortable with. If you invite them to an event this Christmas, ensure they know that you understand if they don't feel up to it on the day and want to cancel, or if they only want to stay for a short period. Be sure to tell them that they're welcome to join you, and you'd love to see them, but only if and when it feels right for them.
Encourage them to spend Christmas with people who understand
If your loved one does like the idea of having company at Christmas, make sure they're spending it with people who understand what they're going through. That way, they can take time away, have a moment of quiet, or let their emotions out without judgement or expectation. Talking can help, especially if the company they're with is understanding and supportive.
Suggest a way to pay tribute to their lost loved one
If you think it might help them through the grieving process, they could still pay tribute to their lost loved one at Christmas. Whether that's visiting their final resting place or a location that was special. You could visit it with them and say some words, relive some happy memories, look over photographs or play a special piece of music. Or simply suggest watching their lost loved one's favourite film, listening to their favourite song, or cooking their favourite meal. If your friend or family member is still going to decorate their house at Christmas, they could hang something of theirs on the tree or hang a decoration that features their name or photo.
Let them know it's okay to skip Christmas festivities
One of the reasons Christmas can be so tough for people is that we're constantly bombarded by images, stories and movies of people enjoying happy times with their families. Understandably, this might feel too much for the person who is grieving. If it is, encourage them to turn off the TV and take a break from social media. Try and distract them, whether that's as simple as a walk in the fresh air.
Quotes about grief at Christmas
We think these two quotes are beautiful. You could pass them on to your friend or family member in a card or a note, as they might like to hear them and think about them.
"Although it's sad to reminisce on Christmases we knew, this year I shall celebrate in memory of you."
"Our time together taught me what Christmas time is for, and that's what I'll remember until we meet once more."
Remind them they're not alone
Being there for someone who is grieving at Christmas is a balancing act – you want to try and lift their spirits as much as you possibly can, but you don't want to overwhelm them. It's normal for people to feel alone and isolated at Christmas, especially because it's typically a happy period. Taking the time to extend a helping hand and letting them know you're there for them will remind them that they're not alone and that they're loved and supported.
Help them find professional help if they're struggling
There's help out there for people who are really struggling, including telephone support, such as The Samaritans. They can also access bereavement counselling via their GP or privately. The NHS also suggests contacting a support organisation, such as Cruse Bereavement Care.
Grief Encounter charity
Grief Encounter is an incredible charity that supports children following the untimely death of a family member. They seek to help with the confusion, fear, loneliness and pain that any child would inevitably experience upon losing a loved one. The charity provides them with a lifeline to cope with free, immediate one-to-one support.
We're so impressed with everything they do, and we're so delighted to support them as our charity of the year. We planned a series of fundraising, which we started in June by donating 10% of all profits to Grief Encounter for 30 days. We're pleased to say that we raised £3,256, which is enough to fund 56 1:1 counselling sessions for bereaved children. If you would like to find out more about this incredible charity, please visit their website: https://www.griefencounter.org.uk/
We hope this piece offered some practical advice and tips for anyone who is helping a loved one cope with grief at Christmas. The best thing you can do as a friend or a family member is be there for them, so they know that they’re not alone – and that they are loved and supported – both at Christmas and every day.