Comforting Those who are Grieving During the Holidays

By Dr. Charles Hebert

The holiday season looms large for people grieving the death of a loved one, especially those who lost a loved one this past year. Some wish to avoid this season all together, whereas others worry about whether or not they will survive. Regardless of the situation people find themselves in, a little support and acknowledgement from caring people can go a long way.

Here are 12 practical tips and coping skills that can help soothe holiday grief. Encourage people to do the following:

  1. Move toward grief instead of running from it. Acknowledge that this time of the year is difficult for those grieving the loss of a loved one. Host a remembrance service where people can speak the name of their loved one, share where they are in the grief journey, and light a candle in remembrance. Take time to pray for them individually.
  2. Urge those experiencing bereavement to take good care of themselves physically, spiritually and emotionally. Grief consumes a lot of energy. Remind those who grieve to rest during the holidays, drink plenty of water and exercise moderately. These activities will strengthen the outer man, while reading some favorite Psalms (chapters 4, 16, 27, 40, 91 … to name a few), listening to worship music, and being prayerful will fortify the inner man.
  3. Encourage those who have experienced loss to give thanks:
    • For all the wonderful qualities of the deceased, recognizing that love does not end at death
    • For all the people who give comfort during this loss
    • For the years spent together
    • For the great memories
    • For the promise of eternal life
    • For God’s presence
    • For family and church
  1. Suggest that they purchase a gift for the departed and give it to someone who would enjoy it.
  2. Recommend giving a gift to the loved ones’ favorite charity in their name or memory.
  3. Counsel them to find good listeners: trusted people who will listen to their stories again and again, without judging or instructing.
  4. Advise them to plan out the special days by:
    • Deciding who will carry out the tasks normally handled by the person who died.
    • Choosing to carry on long-held traditions in familiar places or begin new traditions in new places. Either choice will work, as will any combination of the two. It is also important to consciously make plans and clearly communicate these plans with everyone affected.
  1. Remember that others are hurting as well. Acknowledge their pain and the fact that people grieve differently and at their own pace. Allow others to hurt.
  2. Help them to prioritize and not overcommit. When the holidays are filled with so many parties, dinners and events, those in mourning should save energy for things that are most important. It is also important to rank these activities in order of importance. Help them to plan for what is most important, and then to skip the rest.
  3. Advocate talking to kids about the holidays and giving them permission to be happy and sad.
  4. Remind the grief-stricken that it is okay to be happy—this doesn’t diminish the amount of love and loss they feel about the person who isn’t there this holiday.
  5. Finally, exhort them not to feel guilty for the joy they do find this holiday season.

This holiday season, let us take time to love and serve those who are grieving and struggling with loss. Let me close with 2 Corinthians 1:3–4; “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Dr. Charles Hebert serves as Associate Minister Pastoral Care at Prestonwood Baptist Church.

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