Recently a friend of mine reached out to me for advice. Her brother lost his wife this year and this will be his first Christmas without her. She had the realization that the one who would have bought him a gift would not be here. Of course, Christmas is so much more than the gifts, but it is just one of the hundreds of painful reminders to the grieving that the one who loved them is gone. So what can you do to comfort the grieving at Christmas?
Here’s the truth. There is nothing you can do to take away their pain and sorrow. There is no epidural for this agonizing labor. It is just part of grief. It’s necessary for your loved one to cry the tears and work through the emptiness. Although it doesn’t feel like it, I believe it’s a necessary, but terrible part of the healing process.
Does that mean you shouldn’t do or say anything? NO!!!!! (That was an emphatic, loud voice if you didn’t catch that). Please don’t ignore them! And this goes beyond their “first Christmas” without their person by the way. It may get a little better with each passing year, but I am confident an old wound can still flare up at Christmas, no matter how many years it has been.
Here is where your spiritual gifts and your love languages come into play. Hopefully you have an inkling of what your love language is, and so now is the time to use it. Don’t be afraid you’ll do or say the wrong thing. Whatever you do to try to bring comfort, it’s better than silence. The season can feel so silent and lonely for someone grieving, even if they also have joy for the birth of Christ! You can help fill up that sad space with kindness, friendship and love. If they cross your mind and your heart, do or say something. You aren’t going to be able to take away their sorrow, but you can be a comforting salve for their broken heart. And you should be! We are called to be! When God whispers their name to you…when they are on your mind, please don’t ignore that whisper, ACT on it. Let’s talk about the different ways you can do this:
Words of Affirmation: If this is you, then perhaps you pick up the phone and call your grieving loved one. Send a letter, email or text! Let them know you’re thinking about them, remembering their loved one, and share loving and kind words of encouragement and understanding. Share a memory, speak their loved one’s name to them! Remind them of your friendship, prayers and love. Envelop them with your loving words like a hug. Words are important, comforting and powerful! Remind them of God’s love without dismissing their pain. Encourage them with God’s word while also acknowledging their sorrow. The last thing they need is to feel they are somehow not faithful enough. It’s a balance. “God loves you, even and especially when you’re hurting. I know you’re hurting. I love you too.” Something as honest and as simple as that can go a long way.
Quality Time: If giving people your undivided attention is your thing, there’s a place for you in the comforting effort. Offer time together – a coffee date or dinner together. Offer a time to go shopping together or to a Christmas service at church together. Don’t be discouraged if your friend or loved one declines. It’s likely not personal. Sometimes grieving people just want to curl up and stay home. It’s ok to offer more than once though! Keep asking – don’t give up. If they are on your heart, ask again but give lots of extra grace if they say no thank you. The actual gift you’re offering is not the only gift. The invitation itself is a gift too. Even if they aren’t ready to accept it, you’ve reminded them that someone cares. Someone is remembering them at Christmas and acknowledging the sorrow. Just remember to be patient and politely persistent.
The Gift People: All the love languages are about giving, but this one is about the tangible kind. It’s the gift the recipient can hold in their hands, touch and feel to remember someone loves them. Maybe it’s a Christmas ornament with their loved one’s name on it? A scrapbook filled with memories you’ve compiled to present to your grieving friend? A gift card to a restaurant, or a book that you think will bring them comfort or encouragement? The possibilities are endless. You likely know your friend or loved one well enough to guess what might be useful and appreciated. Don’t let fear of being wrong stop you from showering this love on them at Christmas. The real gift to them is knowing someone cares, someone remembers and acknowledges their broken heart.
Acts of Service: This can be a trickier one to pull off, but if this is your thing, please do it anyway. Be cautious, sensitive and respectful about it, but do it! You can love by clearing snow, offering help with housework, helping with kids (if applicable), running errands, offering to help put up a Christmas tree or decorate for Christmas, delivering a cooked meal, or helping fix something around the house. Ideally you could ask what help is needed, but don’t count on the grieving one to tell you. Look for non-offensive ways to just make something easier. It can be anonymous if you’re worried about crossing a personal space/privacy line. I know I wouldn’t be mad waking up after a snowstorm to find a cleared driveway and sidewalk. I doubt your person would mind that kindness either. Inviting someone to an event like a movie, play or church service could be considered in this category of giving, too.
Physical Touch: Oh how the grieving can miss the comfort of physical touch! I’m not suggesting anything inappropriate or overly personal here – I’m talking about a pat on the shoulder, a friendly hug or holding their hand while they cry. Only you can know if your relationship with the griever is close enough to have this be comforting vs. creepy. If there’s a mutual love between you, odds are good a hug would be welcomed. If you’re not sure, ask – or pick a different category. Personally, I am comfortable hugging a complete stranger, but not everyone likes physical touch, so please keep that in mind.
Again, the most important thing you can do to show your loved one you’re thinking about them is to ACT on that whisper on your heart. Don’t ignore it because it’s all so awkward. Of course it’s awkward, it’s grief! But when you ignore the inclinations God puts on your heart, it makes grief even more isolating for the person grieving. If you’re thinking about someone grieving, let them know!
Look for clues as to what might be helpful. And if you really don’t know, it’s ok to ask. If they tell you’re they’re fine and don’t need anything, send or do something anonymously. If you’ve invited them to dinner and they’ve declined, ask again. I’ve spoken with many grieving people male and female – I’ve never heard ONE of them say they wish people would quit remembering them or caring about them.
Sometimes we grievers say we’re fine and decline invitations not because we don’t appreciate the offers, not because we couldn’t use the help, but because we don’t have the energy to accept or we just want to not need it so badly that we just decline. Sometimes we say no because we don’t want to intrude or be a downer. But trust me, we need you. We need and appreciate your love, your time, your gifts, your words of encouragement and your reassuring touch.
Give us extra grace if we haven’t figured out how to accept your gifts, no matter how much we need them. Give us extra grace if we don’t really know how to tell you what we need. But please don’t give up on us. Don’t forget us.
And for the grievers – will you join me this Christmas in looking for ways we can be givers too? I know your light feels dimmed, your heart feels heavy and your joy feels shadowed, but let’s share the light we do have! There is joy in serving others…and it’s a good distraction too. Let’s do what we can to be the light! Big ways, small ways – they all help. Do what you can, when you can, however you can.
Awhile back I wrote 13 ideas for serving your grieving friend, you can find those ideas HERE.
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10
“Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.”
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8
* I know I promised you a funny story this week, but it’s being delayed by the other things that have come to sit on my heart. Funny will have to wait I guess.
** I also know I’ve been hinting at another giveaway. I haven’t forgotten, I’m just a little (a LOT) disorganized lately. A promise is a promise though and it will be coming soon(ish). Extra grace, extra grace, extra grace! haha