“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – so begins the peppy holiday song. But for many who are suffering a loss, including children, the holidays are anything but wonderful. For them, Christmas morning will be a time of Christmas “mourning.” They will open packages they didn’t want or ask for.
These “packages” will be grief, loneliness, estrangement, worry. Yes, there’s a dark side to Christmas that we don’t like to acknowledge. This year, some kids and adults alike will endure their first yuletide without a loved one. Many divorced parents will spend their childless holiday in tears and emptiness. The children of those parents will be grieving also, wondering why their parents aren’t together. Other adults have taken a financial hit, and Christmas turns the screws on an already-suffering bank account.
These are your friends, neighbors and coworkers. He may be the quiet programmer in the next cubicle or the hurting woman who puts on a brave smile at church. These children may be in your Sunday School class. How do we reach out to grieving people of all ages during the holidays? We want to do something, but we don’t want to say or do the wrong thing. Here are five suggestions:
The hardest thing to do for hurting people, but also one of the most effective, is to simply give the gift of presence. Don’t offer advice. Don’t tell them how they should feel. Just show up and love them with a simple hug, a comforting squeeze of the hand, the offer to sit with them without proposing quick fixes. The Bible instructs us to be “quick to listen” and “slow to speak” (James 1:19). Certainly, we can share counsel if someone requests it. But people want to know how much you care more than how much you think you know.
Statements such as “He’s in a better place” or “God will never give you any more than you can handle” are overused. The bereaved don’t want clichés; they need compassion. This is especially true for kids. Younger ones are not in a place to understand the ways of God that sometimes take us through dark valleys. Again, your presence is more important than your words.
Give An Invitation
Those who will be alone during this time might appreciate an invitation to join you for Christmas dinner or a simple outing. You can also invite someone to worship. Some churches offer “Blue Christmas” services that are specifically designed to comfort grievers. If they decline, don’t take it personally, as some will prefer privacy. They will certainly appreciate your offer and know you care, which is important in the healing process. This invitation may need to include children and their parents. Loving the grieving parent may be the best thing you can do for the grieving child.
Offer A Helping Hand
A friend who loves Christmas lost her adult son this year to a car accident. In a recent Facebook post, she admitted that she was finding it difficult to decorate. Some of your hurting friends might appreciate a helping hand during this time. Offer to put up the tree, run errands, bake goodies or wrap presents. Who will help the child shop for mom or dad?
Go For The Long Haul
People are often bombarded by help immediately after a loss, but then discover two weeks later that they are strangely alone. Be there when the calls stop, the casseroles run out, the cards no longer fill the mailbox. Christmas is a good time to check in, as well as birthdays and anniversaries. Like adults, kids don’t miraculously stop grieving after two weeks. One of the most significant gifts they may receive is the assurance of someone’s steady presence in the many months following a great loss.
None of us can remove the grief of someone who is hurting. But we can “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and make the load a little lighter. It’s never easy to minister to someone who is grieving, but it is worth it. Take the risk. Reach out in God’s love.