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After losing a loved one, there is the overwhelming and uncharted year of ‘firsts.’ The first birthday they are not there to celebrate, the first Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, the first week, month and year anniversary of their death, and, of course, the first holiday season they are not there. All of these moments are ones that bring up tender feelings for the grieving families. How then, do you respect their process and not add to their sadness? Below are some tips that may help you feel more inclined to reach out to these families during this holiday season.

  1. Acknowledge their loss. We tend to think that if we act as if everything is the same as it was the year before, we avoid reminding them that their beloved is not there. Trust, they have not forgotten their hero. Just a simple statement of remembrance can give comfort to the family. They want to know that everyone feels the void left by the fallen. Recalling other holidays when they were there, lets the family know that they were loved and appreciated by others.
  2. Offer to help. Jump in and help out with shopping, chores, decorating, or cooking. Sometimes the most routine and mundane of tasks will trigger grief, and having someone take them over can be a great relief.
  3. Respect their personal grieving process. Whether the family wants to stick with tradition or start something entirely new, encourage healing with your participation. Everyone deals with grief differently.
  4. Make a donation. Find out the family’s favorite charity and make a contribution in their loved one’s name. It’s a wonderful way to honor their memory.
  5. Let the emotions flow. If they cry, let them. In fact, cry with them. It’s ok if you/they are not jolly all the time--or at all--during this difficult time.

Nikki Winn, the Arkansas State Coordinator of Survivor Outreach Services, cautioned against offering cliché statements. She said, “When my brother died, there were some people in my family that didn’t even call. I was hurt for a long time, until I realized, they just didn’t know what to say.”

Nikki continued, “Although good intentioned, these common phrases cause more harm than solace. Don’t tell someone that is grieving that it will get easier with time or that they need to get back to normal. We (as survivors) are living and adjusting to a new normal. A world without our loved one. It will never be like it was before.” She also warned against saying, ‘things will get easier with time,’ or ‘he/she is in a better place.’  “People will tell you to stay busy, but no one wants hear what you think they need to do to cope.”

Nikki ended by saying, “The most helpful thing anyone can say is ‘I’m here for you when you need me.’ As you navigate your new normal, you don’t know what you are going to need and when. It is comforting to know someone will be there for you, even if it is just to listen.”

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