Like hundreds of Kenyans, my family will be approaching this Christmas still in mourning having lost our sister Praxidees. A nurse who dedicated her life to the service of humanity in this country, a daughter; a wife and a mother who will be missed immensely. And like us many Kenyans have lost their loved ones through road accidents, negligence in hospitals or natural causes and for sure there will be one empty chair around the dinner table this Christmas.
The usual Christmas songs will be sung, festivities held, presents purchased. But there is one group of people too-oft overlooked, not out of indifference, but really out of confusion. What do you do when someone you love is grieving, especially this time of year? Do you really know how to best support those who mourn during the holidays?
But since holidays are for being with those we love the most, how on earth can anyone be expected to cope with them when a loved one has died? For many people, this is the hardest part of grieving, when we miss our loved ones even more than usual. How can you celebrate togetherness when there is none? When you have lost someone special, your world loses its celebratory qualities. Holidays only magnify the loss. The sadness feels sadder and the loneliness goes deeper. The need for support may be the greatest during the holidays. Pretending you don’t hurt and or it is not a harder time of the year is just not the truth for you. If it wasn’t harder you probably wouldn’t be here. You can and will get through the holidays.
You can help those grieving during this time by bridge building. However keep it simple, though. The real issue beneath loss is that love needs an outlet and a means of contact. When someone dies, the physical connection seems broken. Love’s flow gets interrupted. Now, you know what happens when a river gets obstructed: cess, turbulence, and disturbance. Holding back your compassion, for fear of “blowing it,” only makes matters worse. The bereaved are not looking for perfect. They are longing to re-establish a connection with what heals their heart. Be this bridge.
It’s tempting to make statements about the past or the future when your friend’s present life holds so much pain. You cannot know what the future will be, for yourself or your friend — it may or may not be better “later.” That your friend’s life was good in the past is not a fair trade for the pain of now. Stay present with your friend, even when the present is full of pain. It’s also tempting to make generalized statements about the situation in an attempt to soothe your friend. You cannot know that your friend’s loved one “finished their work here,” or that they are in a “better place.” These future-based, omniscient, generalized platitudes aren’t helpful. Stick with the truth: this hurts. I love you. I’m here. Your friend’s loss cannot be fixed or repaired or solved. The pain itself cannot be made better. Do not say anything that tries to fix the unfixable, and you will do just fine. It is an unfathomable relief to have a friend who does not try to take the pain away.
Above all, show your love. Show up. Say something. Do something. Be willing to stand beside the gaping hole that has opened in your friend’s life, without flinching or turning away. Be willing to not have any answers. Listen. Be there. Be present. Be a friend. Be love. Love is the thing that lasts.
Have a Merry Christmas!