10 things to say to a friend in grief this holiday season

With the kickoff to the holiday season just days away, I’ve decided to re-share this post I wrote last December, when my family was wading through the depths of grief after losing my dad in October.

Last Christmas Eve, my mom lit this lantern {above} and placed it at my dad’s usual seat at the table. It has been lit on several important occasions over the past year – a bittersweet reminder of his absence, but also of his never-ending presence in our family.

In re-reading these tips one year later, I find the words I suggested then are still so comforting now. I’ve seen multiple Facebook posts lately from friends who are missing their loved ones as the holidays draw closer, years after their passing. The deep ache of missing someone we adored may fade, but never goes away; it lingers just beneath the surface and sometimes comes flooding back without warning. Good friends acknowledge it and don’t care if we cry. Good friends hold our hands through it. Good friends say or write the things we need to hear to let us know we’re not alone. And we can do the same for them.

10 things to say to a friend in grief during the holidays

So, here are the 10 expressions that have comforted my family over the past year and some I’ve learned from friends who have experienced great loss, too…

1. I am thinking of you. 
Sounds so simple, but it means so much to know someone out there is aware you are in pain, and thinking good thoughts about you.

2. What you’re going through totally sucks.
Plain and simple, the journey through grief is shitty. It feels good to have others validate this fact and acknowledge you’re hurting – in a real and gritty way.

3. I’m sending you love during this difficult time.
When it seems heartfelt, this is a huge comfort. Don’t worry that you might not know a person well enough to say it. I have received notes and tweets from people I barely know sending their love. Every time, it’s felt like a warm blanket of human kindness.

4. May peace present itself more and more with every day. 
I’ve heard people say “may you find peace,” but this small shift in language touched my heart when a friend said it. It allows me to just sit back and trust that, in time, peace will find me.

5. I really want to support you this season. 
People in grief usually have no clue how you can help them, so you’ll need to offer some suggestions. A few holiday possibilities: decorate the Christmas tree, bake cookies together, bring coffee over, help to wrap presents or address holiday cards, go shopping together, clean the house, babysit the kids, accompany your friend to a holiday gathering, shovel the driveway. Do not be offended if your friend turns down every offer you make; simply knowing you’re willing and able to help might be enough for the time being.

6. I don’t expect a call back. 
For over a week after my dad died, a dear friend called me every day and just left a message to say she loved me and was thinking of me. At the end of each message, she’d remind me that she didn’t expect a call back. She knew that when I had the energy to call, I would. When I eventually called her back, I felt no guilt. Such a gift!

8. You can cry with me anytime. 
Grief comes in waves and sometimes catches you off guard. You only want to spend time with people who accept you and support you as you are – even if you’re happy one minute and sobbing the next.

9. Can I share a favorite memory of __________?  
Though it may be emotional, sharing stories of the person who passed {and saying their name out loud!} can be really therapeutic for those left behind. Share how he or she impacted your life or bring up stories you remember your friend sharing about their relationship.

10. There is no “right” way to grieve. 
Remind your bereaved friend {and yourself} that everyone deals with grief differently. There are no rules or expectations. During the holidays, some people find it impossible to carry on with family traditions, while others find comfort in them.

I hope this list serves you well either now or in the future, as you support a dear heart who’s hurting. Got another example of good things to say? Do tell!

Liv Lane

As an intuitive adviser and artist, I help brave-hearted, open-minded women illuminate their paths to purpose through powerful classes, intuitive readings, speeches and life-affirming art. This blog, started in 2006, chronicles my journey and offers light for yours. Thrilled you're here!