How to Support a Grieving Friend This Holiday Season

Chances are, like me, you probably have someone close to you who is experiencing his or her first holiday season without someone dearly beloved and painfully missed. Cliches exist for a reason, and what they say about the holidays being an especially lonely time for many people certainly rings as true as the Salvation Army bells outside your local CVS, Winn Dixie, Galleria, you name it. If you have a friend who lost someone this year, a pretty sure bet is your friend is in some extra need of love and spirit this holiday season. But how, right? How can you support a grieving friend when navigating your own holidayness?

You’ve probably heard and read about “holding space” for someone. What does that really mean, anyway? Well, I’ve determined it means a lot! The gist of it is how you can support someone in need. Without judgment, no matter how well intended. But, here are four things you can do to hold space for your grieving friend and make his or her holiday season less like a vacuum and bring some love into that void your friend is surely feeling. Really, anything will be recognized and appreciated.

Ways to hold space for a grieving friend this holiday season

Snail mail. Send a card. Go ahead and send a standard holiday card in your big batch. But find another card – not a sympathy card – something more nondescript. Write out a brief note to let your friend know you’re thinking about her. The card is great because it’s physical. It can be touched and held. Reread if wanted. And doesn’t force your friend to face a conversation she may not want to have. I’ll tell you this: there were numerous times I wasn’t excited to talk to people, even people I dearly loved. It exhausted me when merely getting through a day exhausted me. But I loved, and for a loooooong time I held onto, every single card. Another reason the card works so well is because it’s a break from the influx of happy holiday cards. Don’t get me wrong; I loved those, too.

 

Invitations help. Perhaps my busiest holiday calendar ever was the Christmas of 2012. Planning my party attire and which cocktail dress I would wear for each party was an excellent antidote and distraction. Which I know contradicts what I wrote in Number 1! But it helped. I did not accept every invitation, but I sure as heck appreciated and felt included and loved with every invitation I received. When making an invitation, be specific. When someone would invite me for lunch I’d vaguely respond. But when someone said, “I’d like to take you to lunch on Tuesday, are you available at 11:00? I’ll pick you up and we can go to the hot bar at Whole Foods….” I accepted. What she did was she eliminated any burden for me to plan and also created a specific image for me to look forward to.

 

Doorstep treats. If you live in the same area, consider dropping by with a bouquet of fresh flowers or a pot of herbs (Trader Joe’s makes my flower world go round). There’s something about fresh botanicals in a living space that makes it feel more vibrant and beautiful. Not into flowers? How about a magazine, some baked treats from a cookie exchange, or a box of herbal tea. It would be acceptable to bring them by when your friend is home as well as dropping off on the door step to greet your friend when she returns home. If you don’t live nearby and you have the budget, a small something, whether a book, a gift card to take herself out for a cup of coffee or tea, flowers,…. Will go a long way. Something to encourage her self care.

 

Pick up the phone. Even if you leave a voice mail, and yes I dodged some calls because I was lacking energy, consumed with grief, you name it…. But for every voice mail I received those words embraced me as fully as a hug. Drop a quick line or send a text message to simply say, “I’m thinking about you.” You don’t need to be a close friend to reach out. In fact, some of the unexpected contacts were among the most touching.

 

I found the first year following my dad’s unexpected death excruciating and crushing, particularly that first run of weeks from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. There was not enough fudge, cookies, and wine to get me through the season. I was lonely, but I also wanted distance… my emotions were as volatile as winter weather and storm patterns. Too much time with anyone would render an eruption of some sort. Too much time alone lead to hours in an unmade bed, greasy hair, and well, you can see where I’m going with this. It wasn’t pretty. But those were all reasons why I needed to know from my friends that I still mattered to them and they were still standing by my side. I am grateful for my friends who understood I wanted to share stories one minute, then cry another, and needed to be alone the next minute and respected my needs… and understood my moods were not to be taken personally or a result of them.

 

I was then, and still am, terrible at asking for help. When I most needed gentle love, I was the least able to ask for it. The grief was too strong, and I was too focused on trying to look like I had my you-know-what together. I could see it in my friends’ faces. They were concerned and they wanted to love me and comfort me. I thank God for my friends who did not forget me during their holiday hustle. Your friend will fell and will remember the kindness and love you give.

 

Having deeply reflected on what could have been said or done to help me, I believe there is no “right” thing to say or to do. There’s no fool proof recipe – this isn’t a Toll House cookie. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways you can stand up – or sit down – with and support your friend who is grieving a lost loved one this season. Acknowledge the loss and the pain. If she opens up, listen. Just listen. If you know the loved one, share stories.

 

By being “there” and showing up to support a grieving friend in a way that is authentically you to offer your space, thoughts, and energy, you’re going to give one of the best gifts of the season.

 

Have a very merry and lovely holiday this year. Lots of love to you.

 

XO, Jennifer

Ways to hold space for a grieving friend this holiday season

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A little bit of perspective can bring a lot of resolution. This day, last year, I “woke up,” ( because no one can fairly say I slept at all the previous night) send called my dad’s sister. I spoke to her husband, my “uncle,” who was a man I admired and lived (and trusted) my entire life. I asked him if he called me that night prior, and if we actually talked, or if I had a dream. He informed me I hadn’t dreamed… My dad was dead. He wanted to know, right then and there, when I was coming to Alabama, and he promised me we would do the “heavy lifting” from (there). He couldn’t even tell ms where my dad was. I proceeded to search the locations of and call various county and eventually the VA morgue, and I finally found the location of my dad’s body. That’s pretty fucked up if you ask me…..

Heavy lifting my ass. I had to correct the crap these lunatics devised. When the cards are on the table, you definitely find out who is on your side. You also know, even if it comes 34 years after the fact, who is not concerned about loving on and protecting you.

February 28, 2012, by far, was the worst day of my life. ALIENATING is not even a word to describe how it felt. I didn’t know how to be. I had to book travel. I didn’t know what to do. I stumbled through my day. Stunned. Not numb. I felt it. I was raw. So sore. So scared. So sad. I didn’t even know how was appropriate to grieve. In the same day I received one email from a man I initially, previously, hoped for a relationship declaring he didn’t know of we had a future (he was right, for there was nothing between us), and I also received an email from the incredibly inept and selfish Guy, who informed me he was traveling the next day to Miami (the locale he took me to the previous Spring). I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about either at that time, and resented both for having such horrible timing to message me on THIS DAY. Of all days. Like I really wanted to deal with someone flaunting to me he was going back to the Fountainbleu in Miami Beach without me. Mother F’er. … … … Ok, to be fair, neither knew, at the time, what was going on with me. It’s not like I put a mayday call out to the men in my life of relationships gone bad that my dead was dead…..

I couldn’t even pick out my own clothes to pack my bag. Two friends, out of their love for me and grace in their spirit, packed my luggage. They counted, out from my dresser, the quantity of panties and bras and stockings I’d need for my trip. Do you know what that kind of vulnerability is, for your friends to pack your panties????? I held up a combo of an outfit and asked, “does this look like an outfit I could bury my dad while wearing?” They assured me it was. Aside from that one ensemble, I trusted these women to see that I had my makeup, my razor, deodorant, my makeup (lest I not have any of that to be presentable in this small, proper Southern town that is all that is loved and stereotyped about the South — and all that I love about the South, mind you) and other toiletries including my hair dyer and flat iron, and enough panties and shoes to get me through however many days I’d be to do whatever I’d need to do while in Alabama (I had a one-way ticket for I had no idea what I’d need to do when there — this was, after all, a family who couldn’t even keep track of his body). Fortunately, angels in the form of cousins I previously vaguely knew, but know closely know, came forward to help me find my way.

This year, I woke up to the smell of my artisanal coffee brewed by Lux, and some apple streudle my mom found from Chompie’s. What perspective a year brings. Whereas, last year, I stumbled and staggered and bled through the day ( I couldn’t even pack my own bag).

What a gift time can be. Grace can arrive through time. There are many mistakes I made in the last 366 (my dad died during a leap year so I had an extra day to fuck up). Support I always thought I had was denied me. Family I loved betrayed me. Friends I previously leaned on collapsed. But, family I never before credited became my champions, friends I thought of socially became scaffolds, and support I never saw, previously, came forth many folds. Time and vulnerability brings perspective beyond what we expect. I know Grace because Grace has shown herself time and time and time again to me thus year. And although I’m certain consequences will come from ad decisions I made in self destructive modes this past year, I believe, Grace be there; I may not find her at first, but I know I will be able to get up and try again, and again, and again.

It’s perspective, my friends, Grace is here, even if she might seem shy. Look and you will see.

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Here’s a thing….

I need to accept, that, in my life, bad things are going to happen to me. They are going to happen because of circumstances and people I allow in, and they are going to happen just because bad things happen. To dwell on the bad things that happened and things bad people did to me, or obsess on the bad things that might happen to me in the future does not protect me from experiencing more pain; it diminishes my capacity for strength and compassion to cope with, overcome, and ultimately forgive. The scarcity of feeling strength, love, and acceptance (personal fortitude, self-love, and accepting me as I am) to be myself and to receive life – good and bad – prevents me from fully experiencing my life; and therefore, prevents me from finding full happiness and completeness in myself. The irony is not lost on me that what I desire the most – inner peace, wholeness, and acceptance – can only be given to me from me, and can only be found by me from within me.

I think I can be scared, feel angry, and acknowledge along a full spectrum of pain, and to feel weak and small and uncertain. BUT – if I go there, I need to fully go. there. And go and feel whatever consequence of pain that naturally develops through that allowance, and resolve to let that experience flow – flow so it moves through me rather than stay and develop suffocating stagnation. Otherwise, despite what I allow myself to believe are my “best” efforts to cultivate the life I crave, nothing will grow. I will not be able to breathe or to move or think with any fluidity or relief. As that is stagnation… Failure to develop, advance, or progress; cessation of flowing or running; staleness or foulness.

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Sometimes…


… the most helpful thing to ask is not, “how can I help you,” but rather, “are you ok?”


… the more important thing to know is not if I am going to get through this, because I’m strong enough to get through this, and, well, as far as getting through… well, I am. 


… the best reminder to offer me is not to advise me that I am responsible for my own happiness, because I already know I am responsible for my own happiness, but rather, remind me that you love me, because what I need is your love. 


… the reason for my silence is not anger, though I can’t confidently say the reason for yours.


… the reason for my silence is fear, for I fear if I am pushed too hard, when I next open my mouth, my screams will not be human, and would explode outward such that they destroyed what’s left of my world. 


… when my eyes moisten and my chin stays steady and strong, what I crave at that moment is to be held so I can weep.


… the palpability of the loneliness and isolation I feel in my grief triggers such fear in my speech and my movement I am anxiously wondering if it has become so difficult to be my friend that I will lose you. 


In the end, everything is endured and overcome. 


Sincerely, 


scared, small, sad me

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