It was while writing my Christmas cards this year I realised the festive season might not be so ‘festive’ for some. Christmas can be a difficult time of year for those who are grieving. While I enjoy getting together with my loved ones, some of my friends and family will this year be reminded of the emptiness created through the passing of that special person in their lives.
Grief is a tricky thing. There are no real rules for someone going through the emotions it brings, which can make it all the more difficult for those like me to know just want to say to someone who is grieving at Christmas time. However well-meaning we are, it’s not uncommon for people to act clumsily or unnaturally, which has the potential to further isolate the person grieving.
Earlier this year my sister-in-law lost her son quite unexpectedly. At the time my husband remarked at how he did not know how to respond and was unsure of what he should say to his sister. Truthfully, those closest to him are all still alive so his response was not surprising to me. Guiding him as best I could, I suggested something as simple as ‘We are sorry for your loss’ followed by ‘Is there anything we can do?’ might suffice. As we live miles apart we barely knew our nephew, but hopefully there was some comfort for our family in the sentiment.
A good friend of mine, who I met while travelling through Spain almost a decade ago, lost his wife to cancer this year. They had been together for more than 50 years, had adult children and several grandchildren. We shared so many laughs in the two and a half weeks of travelling together, and I felt so connected to them that we kept in contact after our tour was over. Those exchanges were often letters and emails once or twice a year. I’d been aware of the ill health and was both elated and anxious whenever a new letter would drop into my mailbox. I lived in hope and often said prayers that she would beat the awful disease. When I received word that my friend had lost his life mate/soul mate I was deeply upset.
When sending out our Christmas cards this year I spent much more time personalising each one, especially for my friends and family who I knew would be doing it tough. It does no one any good to ignore those who have died. In trying to search for the ‘right thing’ to say, I realised there is no right thing to say at Christmas.
The truth is, nothing I (or anyone else for that matter) say can bring those bereft what they need most — for life to make sense again. Even though I have experienced loss of my own, I understand that the feelings we go through are different from person to person.
So what did I say to those friends and family grieving at Christmas time?
Well in addition to letting my loved ones know we were thinking of them at this time, there were only a couple of additional words worth mentioning…
‘Merry Christmas’ of course!