Many of my friends and acquaintances have had loved ones pass away this year. It seems an unbalanced number of them have been in the last four months. I don’t know if there are more than usual or if I’m just noticing more than usual, but it has certainly had my attention this holiday season.

Perhaps, because my father passed away close to Christmas and so few thought to consider it, but I have always had an affinity for reaching out to those grieving at Christmastime. We grieve at other times of the year, but during the holiday season, there is a pronouncement of the stark contrast between joy and sadness.

Grieving at Christmastime doesn’t get better. It changes. All of these years later I still have moments when a memory of a past Christmas with my mom and dad will pop into my head and tears will roll. Of course, there are also those moments when I chuckle over a passing memory, and my heart smiles widely. While the physical self, disappears, love never disappears.

I don’t have a formula for grieving during times that otherwise fill with celebrating. Grieving is different for each person. Christmas and Hanukkah are two holidays wrapped in many traditions, and there are others as well. Each seems to mark a memory. For those of us who are fortunate enough to be on the outside-looking-in of grieving, we are often left to wonder what we can do to comfort those affected by a loss.

These are a few that came to mind this afternoon.

  • Reach out to those grieving without fear. Ask how they are doing and can we do anything for them. It sounds normal to do, but we get busy. I know many people who are afraid of reaching out for fear of exacerbating the grief, thinking the person grieving wants distractions more than remembering. They will let you know.
  • Invite the grieving to your festivities, leaving the option open for them to back out if they say they will join in or back in at the last minute. They may even get to your door, see the other guests and decide “no,” they aren’t ready. I feel it’s better to give someone the option of answering than to have regrets that I didn’t.
  • Make a memory gift for your friend or family member. I was thinking today of creating a box for my friend. Decorating it and then filling with written memories or photos. Perhaps a stocking could be filled with bits of paper upon which you’ve written a memory. Let your mind explore. It doesn’t have to be fancy or elaborate.
  • Donate in memory of the one who has passed.  Then send a card to the grieving letting them know you were thinking of them and their loved one.
  • Volunteer in memory of someone.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to children. When my father passed it seemed no one remembered him at Christmastime. It was though he had never existed. Children react differently to death. Let them know you remember and that whatever they are feeling is okay. Sadness or joy – it’s all good.
  • Your friend or family member is grieving. The holidays may be blurry with ups and downs seemingly all the same. Let them know that’s okay. There’s no pressure. How they feel is how they feel. Hold their heart in your hand.
  • Don’t impose your feelings and perspective, but if it feels right, share stories. It can open opportunities for healing.
  • It’s okay to celebrate even though your family member or friend is grieving. Don’t feel guilty. Feeling happy doesn’t diminish your recognition of grieving.