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How to Console a Grieving Friend During the Holidays

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Perhaps it's a joyful time of year for you... But your best friend just lost her mother. Or maybe a colleague just lost a spouse. You know they're having a hard time and you'd like to be helpful, but you haven't a clue what to do or say. In fact, you're not even sure if you should say anything at all because the last thing you want to do is upset them further.

Few of us ever receive advice on how to console a griever. And yet, because loss is the most universal of all experiences, we all have friends and family who, at one time or another, are grieving. The holidays in particular are a time when people are keenly aware of their missing loved ones.

These six tips will guide you through the rocky terrain of consolation.

Acknowledge their loss -- Although this seems so simple and so obvious, it's amazing how many people avoid mentioning loss to a griever. Most likely the omission is a well-intentioned desire to avoid inflicting further pain, but the effect is nonetheless hurtful to a griever who ends up feeling ignored. No matter how many years have gone by, a griever feels loss during the holidays.

Say this: "I know you must be missing your (wife, daughter, dad). The holidays can be an especially tough time when someone you love is gone. I wanted you to know that I'm thinking about you and sending you lots of love."

Share a memory -- Grievers love to hear stories about their loved one. If you have a memory to share, know that it is a gift to the griever.

Say this: "I used to love to hear her laugh." Or "Did I ever tell you about the time he and I..." If you don't have a memory to share, say this: "I hope that your many wonderful memories bring a smile to your face, even in the midst of your pain."

Show up with a gift -- It doesn't have to be anything elaborate, but a plate of cookies, a poinsettia plant, or a holiday stew can really touch a griever. It lets them know that you care and it gives you a way to express your concern.

Say this: "This is just a little something to let you know that we're thinking of you."

Make a donation to a charity in honor of their loved one -- Grievers want to know that their loved one is not forgotten. Donating in their honor is a generous way to help others, to support a cause, and to honor a life.

Say this: "We made a small donation in your sister's honor. We want you to know that we will always remember her life and how much she touched us."

Never minimize their pain -- Telling a griever that their pain isn't so bad, that their loved one is better off in heaven, or that "time heals all wounds" does not help. Notice for yourself if you're trying to placate or explain away their pain. It is no doubt difficult to see people we care about in pain, but the most helpful response you can offer is to listen and to witness their emotion without trying to erase it.

Say this: "I can't imagine what you're going through. I know the pain must be incredibly intense. I'm here to listen and to be your friend."

Consoling a griever can feel like a frightening task. However, if you follow these six tips designed to open your heart and offer your support, your grieving friend will be most grateful.

Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW is a grief counselor and psychotherapist in southern New Hampshire. She is the author of Transcending Loss and Shortcuts to Inner Peace.

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