After the holidays, when parties are over and visitors have stopped dropping in, someone who has recently lost a loved one may face new lows of loneliness. While some may find the new year an open gateway to a fresh start, others may find it a slammed door of separation from shared experiences and future dreams with their deceased dear ones. For some, the post-holiday blues may reflect the bereavement faced not long after a death.
How long has it been since your friend’s life changed forever? A few days? A couple of weeks? Half a year?
In the beginning, a newly grieving, raw-hearted mourner may be nearly as overwhelmed by outpourings of support as by the loss itself. Picture a parched child trying to sip from an open fire hose. The analogy is imperfect, but I hope it conveys the idea. By all means, do offer your support and your presence! (But be understanding if your friend “backs away” at first — or even after repeated gestures on your part.)
Later, the initial shock of death wears off and day-to-day realizations and adjustment difficulties set in. Sadly, as friends and loved ones return to their “normal” lives, their life-sustaining (though drenching) support often wanes to a trickle. Picture the same open-mouthed child now waiting beneath a stalactite for quenching water — one drop at a time. The mourning soul still thirsts, but expected sources of hydration have all but dried up.
Just as the post-holiday ebb of socializing may leave you feeling the loss of interaction with your friends and coworkers as your life gets back to “business as usual,” the decrease in holiday-minded activities can usher in a newly darkened period of social “dehydration” for those in mourning.
Here are some ways you can offer life-sustaining, soul-quenching “water” (in manageable quantities) to your friend whose loved one died:
- Acknowledge the absence. (“I’m sorry. I’m sure you’re missing her today.”) I appreciated (and still do appreciate!) expressions of acknowledgement.
- Be dependable. (If you say you’ll call Friday at at 8:00 p.m., be sure you call Friday at 8:00 p.m. — no matter what.) When everything in my life seemed upside down, having friends follow through on promises kept me anchored.
- Invite interaction. (It doesn’t matter whether you ask your grieving friend over to play with your new holiday pet, meet for lunch, or take a walk around the block, as long as you act to include him or her.) I turned down far more invitations than I accepted, but I needed to hear each one — even those I wasn’t able to accept.
- Think about your friend — and share that you’ve thought it! (Text, private message, email, write, call, or speak face-to-face to say, “You’re in my thoughts,” or “Thinking of you today.”) You may think it silly to send such simple words, but it’s not! Your message doesn’t have to be eloquent. Just heartfelt.