In the series “Light After Loss,” Modern Loss’s Rebecca Soffer discusses ways to navigate the long arc of grief and loss.
We can always do better when someone we care about is dealing with loss. And what better time to start talking about this than during the winter holiday season, a period laden with celebrations, twinkly lights, presents … and tough times.
A lot of people around us are struggling, even if they don’t look like it. At the very least, it’s a bittersweet time of year for many.
In a recent “Light After Loss” Facebook Live episode, Modern Loss’s Rebecca Soffer hosted a discussion about practical ways in which we can support our friends, relatives, colleagues, and even neighbors who might be struggling during this season and beyond. She was joined by Mekel Harris, a psychologist who specializes in grief and loss-related trauma.
Here are some key takeaways from their conversation:
Compassion = caring + action
You might care a lot, but that won’t make a difference until you pair it with action. And the action doesn’t have to be anything heroic; it can be as easy as checking someone’s mailbox or dropping off some food. Consider your relationship with the grieving person and the extent of your connection. Wherever you fall – be it a best friend, colleague, neighbor – there is always some small, tangible action that you can take. Figure out what that is and do it.
Pre-game your support before a celebration
If you know that a grieving person in your life will be at an event you’re attending, get in touch with them in advance. Make it clear that you can be a point person for anything they need. For example, come up with a signal or phrase that they can use if they’re having a tough time, or offer to leave with them at any moment, or step out for a breather together. Doing so creates a sense of accountability for you and makes them feel like they don’t have to “get through” it alone.
It’s OK to admit this stuff is uncomfortable
Grieving people are fully aware that their presence might be weird for many people around them, and many are nervous about being the “buzz kill” in any setting, especially a festive one. It’s OK to acknowledge to them out loud that the topic is awkward for you: Just naming the elephant in the room can be incredibly powerful.
Avoid doing the thoughtless thing that many of us think is thoughtful
The worst thing you can do is nothing at all. People need to be seen, heard, and validated, which is especially true in the face of loss. Witnessing grief is a powerful thing.
Sometimes we naturally try to avoid a topic that is upsetting to us – i.e., grief – because it makes us uncomfortable. We tell ourselves that we will just make the griever uncomfortable because we will be reminding them of something painful. But bringing up someone’s loss during a time of celebrations won’t trigger any particular memory for that person. On the contrary, the chances are overwhelming that they are already thinking about their loved one.
Go with this instead: “Hey, I see that this may be a hard time for you….” Without suggesting anything, this simple phrase opens the door to a conversation.
Nobody has grief figured out. It’s OK to learn along the way; you are not tasked with being the “end all, be all” in that person’s grief journey. And just because someone doesn’t want to accept your invitation to dinner or a holiday event one week doesn’t mean they will always decline. Keep at it and keep showing you care. The other person will always remember that you tried.
This article was authored by ModernLoss.com, which offers candid conversation about grief and meaningful community throughout the long arc of loss.