Ahh, the holiday season is upon us once again. A time when we come together with family and friends to share a meal, small gift and a cup of ’nog. While many of us will be in search of that perfect gift with the thoughts of “I hope they like this,” others are in an entirely different emotional space during what has been labeled the ”Most Wonderful Time of The Year.” Those individuals are your friends and family members who have lost a loved one this year, or perhaps during previous holiday seasons. Due to their dissimilar emotional state we may find ourselves questioning the right things to say or do.

Before we jump into ways that can be helpful, let’s knock out some of the things we need to be mindful not to say. We must be sure not to approach our bereaved friend with what they should be doing, what they should believe in, and how they should or should not be feeling right now. Examples of this would be “At least you had him for x number of years,” “God needed another angel,” and the big one that is said unfortunately all too often, “At least he/she isn’t suffering anymore.” While these are knee jerk responses, we want to steer clear of them and know there are more helpful ways to show we care.

Remember the old saying our grandparents would tell us – “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.” This could never be more true then when it comes to socializing with a bereaved friend as we must become strong listeners instead of persistent talkers. As a matter of fact, it is even okay for us to say, “I don’t know what to say, but please know that I care.” Most often this is better then saying nothing or completely ignoring the person. While we interact with the bereaved, we want to be sure to acknowledge the loss and express our willingness to listen. Be available to them and ask open ended questions about the individual that passed. There is nothing wrong with sharing a funny story and exploring with your friend how that person might have reacted to a certain situation. Old photos and sharing past stories can be helpful as well. Retell jokes, laugh, cry and feel the feelings that are present, knowing that a range of emotions are very common. Please be mindful not to push this too strongly, as it could also be too painful. Simply be mindful of all reactions as you begin down this road. All in all we want to be good listeners and through sharing of stories and experiences we can help our bereaved friends vocally navigate through the Holiday season.

Understand that traditions may change. Yes, some traditions may be extremely difficult to continue without the loved one present. ”Gary always carved the Turkey,” or ”Mom’s homemade pumpkin pie was something everyone looked forward to devouring after dinner.” This, however, does not mean that they are forever forgotten. Simply assist your friend or family in starting new traditions founded around the memories of old. For example, ”Gary won’t be able to carve that turkey, but, Gary’s son could now take over the tradition using his father’s favorite carving knife.” As for the homemade pumpkin pie, my family has taken on this tradition from my wife’s grandmother who passed years ago. My mother-in-law has continued the homemade pumpkin pie using her mother’s recipe and rolling pin. Every holiday we joke by saying to my mother-in-law, in an Eastern Shore accent much like that of Mom-Mom, “Beverly, don’t forget about that pumpkin pie in the oven,” exactly the way Mom-Mom would years ago nearly every Thanksgiving. Traditions are simply memories passed down from one generation to the next, and there is nothing wrong with tweaking them to keep the memory alive.

Although this could continue onto numerous pages, let’s bring this together with one last helpful tip. Often the bereaved benefit by visiting places or things that were special to their loved one. Visiting their final resting place, such as a cemetery or memorial garden, is often advisable, but it doesn’t have to be limited to that. If boating was something the individual had a passion for, explore taking a walk along a favorite shoreline with your bereaved friend and talk about the memories shared together on the water. Perhaps it’s golfing that was a favorite hobby of the one who-passed, take time to ask the bereaved friend to join you in a round of golf at a favorite course in the area and share some of the memories together. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do, as long as you help your friend connect to those special memories.

Grief is not something we should run from, but rather embrace and honor. It has been described as a convoluted mixture of all emotions, ultimately being a form of love. While many will feel like that ”one missing bulb on that strand of lights keeps the rest from lighting,” it is up to us as the friends to be there for those grieving and keep the lights lit during this holiday season. As long as there’s a memory, those who have passed live in our hearts to stay.

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