If you are dealing with illness, divorce, incarceration, or grief, that festive spirit can feel like salt in the wound. Holidays can make you painfully aware of your loss.
Phrases like “Happy Holidays” may seem like a cruel joke.
Don’t be afraid of mentioning someone’s loss. They are aware of it and dealing with it every day. Knowing what to say is difficult.
Instinct is to encourage them to think positive. “Time heals all wounds” “Everything happens for a reason.” Interviews with those who have suffered a loss reveal that this is the least helpful approach. Pressuring people to be happy is certain to make them feel worse. These interviews revealed that the most “help” came from those who did not suppress them from expressing their feelings…”some things cannot be fixed, they can only be carried.”
Avoid trying to empathize by mentioning something similar that happened to you. “My brother is sick from chemo?” “My cat was throwing up recently.” We subconsciously try to switch the spotlight to us. Odds are you have no idea how they are feeling. The best help you can afford it to acknowledge that fact by saying it…”You must be upset. I am here for you”
Don’t offer unsolicited advice. “Come to the party” “You have to move on.” Better to admit your frustration: “I wish I knew the right thing to say. I’m sorry you are going through this, but you will not go through it alone.”
Don’t make empty offers of help…”Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Certainly we mean it, but it puts the burden on others to know what they need and feel comfortable asking. Instead of offering “anything,” JUST DO SOMETHING.
When you are at a loss for words, the best thing you can do is spring into action. Actions don’t just speak louder than words; they’re felt more deeply, too.
adapted from USA Today 12/1/17