‘My friend is grieving, and I don’t know how to help them this Christmas… What should I do?’
Times of festivity can be difficult for those who are grieving. It may have been a recent death, or time may have passed by, either way grief can impact anyone at any time. So, how can you support a grieving friend or relative?
Checking in on your grieving friend over the Christmas and New Year period is so important. Even something as simple as saying that you know it can be a hard time, can reassure your friend that you care. They may be trying to avoid social media and anything jolly, and that’s okay too. It might be a welcome distraction if you message or call them to talk about something that isn’t Christmas related, you could ask them if instead they’d like to talk about the latest film/TV show you’re both obsessing over.
There are many ways to be there for them, whether they wish to join in with the celebrations or not. Even if they are trying to avoid Christmas, things like the media, music, shops, and social media can be hard to ignore and have so many ways of reaching us.
One of our support workers, Sally, has suggested some ways you can check in on your friend at Christmas and our Youth Team, who have all experienced grief, have shared their what might have helped them:
Acknowledge that this time of year can be difficult
Simply acknowledging that this is a difficult time can be invaluable. Your friend may be feeling isolated, alone and overwhelmed at the moment, so to recognise this could be warmly welcomed. Inviting your friend to spend time with you could allow them space to be themselves, with no pressure. Let them choose what to do, or gently guide them to maybe go for a walk, a coffee in a quiet café, for lunch in your home, or visit the grave if they prefer that.
Pop out for a treat and a walk, offer them a chance to talk about how they’re feeling.
Send them a thoughtful message, letting them know that you’re thinking of them and are there to support them.
Involve them! Extend invitations, invite them to wrap presents, go Christmas shopping or to see Christmas lights. Help them to find joy in the festivities even though they’re grieving.
Remember that grief is not linear and can often be more prominent around the festive period.
Be supportive if plans are changed or cancelled, ask them if they need anything, e.g., a chat on the phone or some chocolate.
Rosie, Winston’s Wish Youth Team
Ask them if they want to talk about their grief or not
Keep it simple, there is no need to worry about handling tricky conversations. Just allow them to talk and offload if they wish. Being there to listen when they need it is an easy thing you can do to help. It’s also okay to avoid talking about their grief – give them the option by asking if they want to talk about it first. And if they prefer silence, you can just sit alongside them. Just being there will mean a great deal.
Check in with their wellbeing and offer support
If you feel they are not coping well at all, and are concerned for their wellbeing, try to raise this in a conversation – be direct if you need to be – Do you need any specific help? Are you eating/sleeping? Do you need me to help you with your shopping/meals/organising? Being able to take some pressure from your friend may help to lighten the invisible weight of mental health and grief.
If you think they need help from a trained person, you could direct them to Winston’s Wish (contact details below), the Samaritans (call 116 123) or their GP.
It will feel different around Christmas without the loved one around, but it is okay to have ups and downs during this time.
Rebecca, Winston’s Wish Youth Team
Let them know they don’t need to send a long reply, just a simple ‘ok’ or emoji
Check on your friend whenever you want, if you ensure they don’t need to answer you each time, that takes the pressure off them. Let them know that a simple ‘ok’ or emoji in response is fine. They will appreciate you checking in on them.
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Talk about their person if they want to
Don’t be afraid to talk about their person who died. Say their name, recall a lovely memory you have if you have one or remind your friend of a story or something they’ve told you before. If it feels right, encourage them to share a story about their person. Many grieving people worry that their person will be forgotten, so allowing them space to talk and reflect is important.
If you know a friend is grieving this Christmas, don’t be afraid to reach out to them. You may be scared that you are just reminding them of their loss, when in reality they are thinking about it an awful lot and may just need an open ear and a hug. Here’s a list of considerate things you could do:
Listen – be available to have a talk with them about their grieving process. Try to understand what they’re going through. Be patient.
Be thoughtful – it could change somebody’s day by doing a small gesture for them. This could be baking them cookies or sending them a supportive message. It doesn’t have to be big, giving a hug could cheer someone up.
Organise meeting up – Christmas can be very isolating for some people, therefore meeting up with a friend can make them look forward to something and remind them that there is something good in life.
Whilst looking out for a friend, make sure to also look after yourself as well. It can be challenging supporting someone through their grieving process but every small thing you do to help them can make a huge difference.
Evie, Winston’s Wish Youth Team
Reassure them it’s okay to cancel or change plans
Find out if they have any plans for the festive season and remind them that it’s okay to change plans last minute if they just feel like doing nothing instead. They may want to be with people, or alone, or do something they never usually do – there is no right or wrong. As long as they feel they’re making the right decision for them.
Be there and/or listen
Lots of grieving people find the build-up and anticipation before the event more difficult than Christmas itself. Being there to provide support and a listening ear is often the best help you can give.
Winston’s Wish are here to help! We offer one-to-one and group grief support sessions. We also have lots of online resources and a Helpline, email and live chat service where you can talk to bereavement professionals. You can call us on 08088 020 021 (open 8am-8pm, Monday to Friday), email email@example.com or use our live chat (open 3-8pm, Monday to Friday) and find out more on our Get Support page.
If you need urgent support in a crisis, you can contact the 24/7 Winston’s Wish Crisis Messenger by texting WW to 85258.