During the holidays, families will be gathering to repeat their favourite traditions and rituals. For many, this is the highlight of the whole year. However, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other family-centred holidays can be especially painful for those who are experiencing loss.
Loss is not limited to the passing of a loved one. Loss can mean a family's first Christmas after a divorce or breakup, or the loss of their home due to financial hardship. Loss of income can mean fewer presents. Loss can mean the death of a beloved pet, or even the loss of a tradition at home, because this year you have chosen to travel or it's your first year in a seniors' home.
For all the different types of loss, there are just as many reactions. Every person has their own unique and subjective experience of loss and grief. There is no right or wrong, better or worse feelings. Some get angry, some get sad. Some act irritably, some get quiet.
WATCH: How to handle grief over the holidays. Story continues below video.
The holidays heighten those feelings even more, because we hold such high expectations for how things "should be" this time of year. We cherish memories of the past and we revisit the importance of our loved ones. When everyone else seems to be merry, many around us are quietly suffering the blues of mourning the memories of what was good that is no longer.
Don't dismiss feelings of sadness
How can we help those people in our lives manage this time more comfortably? Most important is recognizing their feelings are valid and not to dismiss or minimize them.
Too often, in our desire to want to make others feel better, we try to convince them why things are not so bad. "We'll get another dog," "This new house is not so bad" and "Look on the bright side." These comments are not helpful. They send the message you should not feel the way you do.
Grief is a process, and the person may not be ready to move on yet, so instead, show acceptance and understanding by joining them in their grief; "She was a good dog. I miss her, too" or, "You did have the best house ever. I miss our big family dinners around your table, too."
Share some memories together. Stay in the sadness together for a time. Uncomfortable as that may make you feel temporarily, it helps memorialize and give importance to the loss, which is healing.
Honouring the loss can help children
Part of what helps people move through their grief is to make some form of action. What might the grieving person do? The children might want to put a picture of their grandparent on the mantel, or request their grandpa's favourite dish be served. Perhaps kids want their other parent's stocking hung at their step parent's house.
There is no one size fits all, but if you ask the question "What can we do to honour the loss?" and help suggest some creative ideas, your caring will go a long way to bring comfort. "Would you like to bring mommy's pillow to my house to sleep with since you will be missing her so much?"
Parents have a hard time witnessing their children's emotional pain, but we need not be frightened by the suffering of grief. Children are resilient if we can bring calming equanimity to the situation, instead of anxious haste to sweep away their pain.
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