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.
Grief at Christmas: 10 ways to help a loved one who is grieving
1. People handle grief in different ways.
Pay attention to how your loved one handles grief. 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.
2. Don’t assume. Ask.
Never make assumptions about what helps your loved one. Ask.
3. 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.
4. Celebrating traditions may help.
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.
5. Gifts of remembrance
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.
6. Tokens of love
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.
7. Let your loved one cry.
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. Romans 12:15
8. Show sympathy and compassion.
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.
9. Participation in events
Encourage his participation in events 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.
10. Just being there speaks louder than words
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. Practice the art of listening.
10 Ways to Help the Grieving at Christmas
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.
More help for the grieving:
Help for the Grief-Stricken: 3 Anchors that Held Me in Grief
Resources for grieving adults and grieving children
Because of Him,
(If you have a question you’d like Dr. B to answer, contact her here now. Your name and identity will be kept confidential.)
Thank you for mentioning that grief can also be due to the loss of other things, too, such as the loss of a job, health concerns, loss of friendships, etc. There is no time limit on grief. We all grieve in different ways and different times. I am thankful that God holds us while we grieve. You are right, just being present with someone can have a special impact. We don’t need to worry about what words to say, just be there for that person.
Our presence in another’s life can be such a powerful extension of God’s love. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in thinking we have to do or say the perfect thing, when really, we just need to be there.
Essential insights here for any form of grief. I suspect that a high percentage of people grieve through much of the holiday season.
I can list many people who are grieving the loss of loved ones this holiday season, and so many more who are grieving in other ways or circumstances. Loss and hurt are pervasive. We don’t have to reach very far to find someone in need of our love and compassion. Because of Him, #HopePrevails
These are so excellent! I lost my mother 3 years ago and cared for her for 15 years. I know the good intentions but the reality of many is quite opposite. I think you questions to the one grieving, no matter what the grief stems from, and then the beautiful ways to honor someone’s memory are especially good. Thank you for answering this person’s letter at this time of year.
Caring through Christ, ~ linda
Grief is such a difficult issue to address because its such an individualized reaction. We all do it differently, and we all experience the loss of even the same person from a different perspective. But that’s no excuse for not reaching out to the grieving. The key is to be willing and then to be guided by the person’s own needs.
Such great nuggets of wisdom to share, for difficult days that the holidays can be when missing someone, or even something, that you loved or hoped for. Grief is such a deep place, Michelle, and hard to understand,even when you don’t know where you are in that process.
It can be hard to know where you are in the process because grief ebbs and flows like the tide. But it’s important to allow grace for ourselves when we are the ones grieving, and grace for others when they are trying to respond to us, and grace for others when they are grieving. Sometimes there aren’t necessarily rights and wrongs, just good and better.
This one line “You can’t take away their grief, but you can comfort and validate their feelings” is a great tip because we often wonder what we can do for someone who is grieving when just being with them and shows them that we care is enough. Thank you for sharing.
Comfort is such a sacrificial gift. And it’s one that makes a lasting impact. It will be cherished and remembered…long after the company is gone and the casseroles are eaten.
Such a great post, Michelle! Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for linking up at InstaEncouragements!
Thank you so much for reminding people that grief is real and may be even more so during the holidays. I am a widow
of one and a half years now. My loss of Kenneth still brings sorrow and tears at odd moments, with words that may or may not be a clue as to the why. I just miss him and so things just may bring those tears which I have been known to shed a lot!! Some people have done extremely well with me this Christmas and some not. It takes desiring to be there for the person rather than to not deal with death and that person. Thank you again, Michelle.