Baylor Grief Expert Offers Helpful Ways to Interact with Those Suffering the Loss of a Loved One This ChristmasDecember 8, 20172 min read
For many, this Christmas will be the first holiday without a special loved one. The loss of a family member or a friend brings obvious grief. And for those who have the opportunity to interact with a bereaved person, there are often questions: What do I do? What do I say?
Grief expert Helen Harris, Ed.D., associate professor in Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, suggests the following:
1. Listen more than talk.
2. Acknowledge the loss and express your caring.
3. Find a way to include the lost loved one in the holidays.
“I recommend families find a way to include the lost loved one in the holidays: to light a candle on the mantel to burn through the day as a symbol of his continued presence, to make an ornament with her name and place it on the tree, to talk about their roles and be intentional about who will assume those roles now of carving the turkey, etc., to use at least one of their favorite recipes for a holiday dish.”
4. Take time to tell stories and look through old photos. But don’t push it.
“If folks find it too painful, there should be no pressure to do it,” Harris said. “There will be other holidays, other times and other gatherings.”
5. Ask what helps and be open to what doesn’t.
6. Avoid “helpful” actions that are actually hurtful.
“When you stay away, pretend it didn’t happen or walk the other way in a store so you don’t have to say anything – those things hurt,” Harris said.
7. Understand that there’s no set time frame for someone who suffers a loss to be “over it” or “move on.”
Harris said adjustment to loss is a long process and tends to get worse before it gets better. Those not closely connected to the loss will move on with their busy lives while the person who has lost a spouse or child or parent will experience fresh loss over and over again for the first year while facing the first Thanksgiving, birthday, anniversary, Christmas, vacation, etc. without the person with whom they had always shared those moments.
“There is a time when we manage our grief more than it manages us, and a time when the healing becomes strength, like a healed broken bone is stronger at the point of healing than the bone around it. But we are always changed, different because of both the life and the death of the person we loved and lost,” Harris said.
Helen Harris, Ed.D. Associate Professor, Diana R. Garland School of Social Work
Expert on grief and social relations, redefining the intersection of loss and religiosity