What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas?

Christmas is a hard time of year for those who are grieving. Not only does the festivity of the season remind the bereft of all they have lost, but it’s a time for getting together with loved ones, and the goneness of that one special person seems even more unfathomable when you are alone or alone in a crowd.

Grief makes everyone uneasy. It’s a reminder how vulnerable we really are. How, despite our beliefs, we know so very little of life and death. Even well-meaning people stumble around the bereft, suddenly clumsy in the face of grief, and this unnatural behavior makes the griever feel even more alone. Some people give looks of speculation, as if you are diseased and they’re wondering if they should step away so they don’t catch your illness. Or else they give you wrinkled-forehead looks of sympathy that make you feel even worse.

Shortly after the death of my life mate/soul mate, I noticed how uncomfortable people were around me, and how they wanted to say the right thing but didn’t know what the right thing was, so I offered suggestions in What to Say to Someone Who is Grieving. I can see there might be a special concern about saying the right thing at Christmas, but the truth is, there is no right thing. Nothing you can ever say will bring the bereft what they most need: life to make sense once more. (That might not be what we most want, but it is what we most need.)

If you know the person huggingly well, the best thing is a hug. If you knew the deceased, share a story. “I remember how Bob loved (or hated) Christmas.” Don’t assume that by ignoring the dead you are making things easier for the bereft. We remember, and it’s nice to know that others remember, too. One thing to never say is, “I know how you feel.” You don’t. You can’t. Even if you had a similar loss, everyone’s grief is different, every person is different, and by telling them you know how they feel, you are diminishing the truth of their grief. Also, don’t pressure them to tell you how they feel. Grief encompasses so many different emotions, it’s almost impossible to know how one feels. All you know is that you are in pain.

It seems such an emotional minefield, doesn’t it? But, whether you are family, good friends, or casual aquaintances, there is something you can say, something that is so common and almost rote that no one stops to analyze the words. And still these words manage to convey exactly what you want to say. (In fact, leaving off these words may make the person even worse since they will know how uncomfortable you are with their grief.)

So, what do you say to someone who is grieving at Christmas?

You say, “Merry Christmas.”

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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16 Responses to “What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas?”

  1. Joy Collins Says:

    Merry Christmas, Pat, and a big virtual hug.
    Love,
    Joy

  2. Smoky Zeidel Says:

    Wise words, Pat. I lost my father two days after Thanksgiving two years ago; I needed this post. I’m still raw during the holidays. I’m raw now.
    Merry Christmas to you and to me.

  3. Namaste Consulting Inc Says:

    I always suggested to clients to think about what traditions they’ve always had for holidays and if they still work for them. Grief gives us the opportunity to make great changes. If traditions don’t work, get rid of them, and create new ones. Sometimes it’s not that they don’t work, it’s that they are painful. And some people know this without having someone suggest it. Widows who have come to group have changed parrishs or times they go to Mass. Others change what day the celebrate.. if Christmas eve was always the special day, maybe they’ve made Christmas morning the new day to celebrate. People should be encouraged and supported in whatever way they need. This was a very nice blog post!!!

  4. PETER Says:

    My dad passed away December 2 2011 what do I say to people merry Christmas

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I am so sorry about your dad. This is a hard time of year to lose someone. Just say “Merry Christmas.” It’s a common greeting at Christmas, but no one ever truly expects anyone to be merry. Or you could say, “If my dad were here, he’d want you to have a Merry Christmas.” Or you could say, “I wish my dad could be with us today.” People will be kind and not worry about what you said or didn’t say. I hope you have a peaceful day.

  5. helsbels1960 Says:

    I lost my beloved dad on New Year’s day this year. It’s going to be hard on all the family this year. Yet I know he’d want us to have a merry Christmas. It’s hard though…

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      The holidays are always hard when we have lost someone, and they are doubly hard when the anniversary falls during that time. Remember him this holiday. Don’t keep your grief or your memories to yourself. Wishing you a Merry Christmas, even if you don’t feel like having one.

  6. pajarigirls Says:

    Reblogged this on pajarigirls and commented:
    Merry Christmas. We saw a dear friend at The Barn today who is grieving the loss of both her children, so this post caught my eye. Thank you, will be sharing this with family and friends.

  7. pajarigirls Says:

    Merry Christmas, Pat. And thank you. Re-blogged on pajarigirls.com to share with friends and family :)

  8. Pat Bertram Says:

    Reblogged this on Bertram's Blog and commented:

    I wrote this post last year, and it’s an important one. People don’t often know what to say to those who are grieving, and the merriment of the season makes the situation even harder. But there is one thing you can always say . . .

  9. Rod Marsden Says:

    A hug and a story sounds about right.

    Merry Christmas.

    Right now I feel very lucky to have two wonderful sisters who tend to look after their older brother. Also I have nieces and a nephew who are good value.

    Loss is one thing. My mother is no longer around. On the other hand, I still have my dad so life isn’t so bad.


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