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Presbyterians Today columnist writes on sitting with those spending the first holiday without a loved one

Helping those who are grieving

by Diana Jones | Presbyterians Today

Diana Jones

Most of us look forward to decorating our homes and seeing family for the holidays, even if that can be stressful at times. The season of joy can evoke powerful feelings, even under the best circumstances. But for those who have lost a loved one, the holidays can be even more difficult — especially if it is “the first holiday without … .”

A little more than year ago, I was approached by the pastor of my church, John Knox Presbyterian Church in North Canton, Ohio, to lead a grief support group. During the training, my co-leader and I learned just as much from the participants. We met a parent who had lost a child and discovered that not only was the family dealing with an unexpected death, but because of Covid restrictions they couldn’t even mourn their loss in the usual way. We realized we needed a way to remember that person, especially during holidays.

I found my answer through GriefShare, a national program that equips organizations to walk alongside those navigating a new reality. What I found very helpful was a special training called “Surviving the Holidays,” which offered ways to help the grieving reduce stress and minimize loneliness around the holidays.

Among all those tips and ideas, though, the key to helping those who are grieving is listening. Talk to the person grieving and be ready to really listen. If they don’t want to talk, sit quietly with them. Don’t ignore their pain or try to cheer them up; just be in the moment with them. Don’t just bring them a meal but also eat with them. Offer to pray for them if they are open to it. The message for those experiencing “the first holiday without …” is that joy is possible, even in grief.

Diana Jones is a deacon at John Knox Presbyterian Church in North Canton, Ohio. She is also a director of and facilitator for GriefShare.

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