Dear Dr. B,
My father’s wife died last December, and although he seems to be moving forward, I know this first Christmas without her must be hard. He’s not always so communicative though. How can I help and encourage him?
Wanting to Encourage
First, let me say I’m so proud of you for keeping your father’s grief in the forefront of your mind. Too often what I see is that people are very concerned and caring in the initial days following someone’s loss, but then after the funeral life gets back to normal for everyone else and the grieving are often forgotten in their grief and loss. Everyone’s grief schedule is different, and while some will start to experience a lessening of the intensity of their pain after 9-12 months, for others it may take years.
Let me also take the time to mention that grief does not just affect those who have lost friends and loved ones due to death. Grief can affect those who have lost relationships due to divorce or break-up, separation because of military or employment responsibility, or loss due to job layoffs and termination, just to name a few other scenarios.
When it comes to supporting those who are grieving, always try to take your cues from them. Because everyone’s grief reaction is individual to them, what they need and want will be different from others’ needs and desires. Never make assumptions about what helps your loved one: Ask your father if it helps to talk about his wife. For some, talking about the one for whom they grieve helps, but for others it just intensifies their grief.
Ask your father if he’d like to continue to celebrate some of the traditions he shared with his wife. This may allow him to continue to feel close to her and cherish her memory.
Given that you’re headed into Christmas, many companies make ornaments that specifically honor loved ones no longer with us. You may consider purchasing such an ornament for your father in honor of his wife. Alternatively, you may choose to frame one of the better pictures of her or of them together as a gift of remembrance for him.
As a token of love, consider doing something with your father in memory of his wife such as planting a tree in her honor. Alternately, consider making a donation in her honor to one of her favorite causes or charities.
Let him cry if he needs to, and don’t hide your tears from him if you feel so inclined to cry with him. The Bible encourages us to laugh with those who laugh and to weep with those who weep.
Be understanding and compassionate if your father seems more distant, quiet, or removed from the conversation or social engagement this year as he may have from years past. Encourage his participation so that he will feel welcome and loved, but respect his wishes if he’d rather observe from the sidelines. During times of grief, even the simplest of interactions can take excessive effort.
While we always want to have the right thing to say to someone who is grieving, often just listening and being present is what helps the most. You can’t take away their grief, but you can comfort and validate their feelings. Hold his hand, give him a hug, or a squeeze on the shoulder. A knowing touch says more than words ever can.
Just as Ecclesiastes 3:1 comforts us, to everything there is a season. Mourning will not last forever, but only God knows how long your father’s grief will last. Be there for him now, then you will have the honor and privilege of being there for him when his joy returns.
Because of Him,
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