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Expert Advice

Resolve to be there beyond the holidays

When people are struggling with grief or other adversity, there is often an initial outpouring of love and support—and then that support gradually fades away. This holiday season, avoid falling into that trap. If your friend is going through hard times, consider making a promise—to them or just to yourself—to be there for them through the holidays and beyond. This can make a world of difference for your friend: believing that at least one person will be there for us can be a key building block of resilience.1

Here are some suggestions for how you can continue to help your friend over time.

Keep reaching out

Once the holidays are behind you, find small ways to let your friend know that you haven’t forgotten about them. Make a schedule for checking in—say, by sending a text message every few days—and hold yourself to it. Send a card if you see something that reminds you of your friendship. Leave a note on their door if you’re driving by their house. It doesn’t need to be a big gesture to mean a lot.

Include them in events

Invite your friend to gatherings—such as dinner parties, religious services, or Little League games—where you think they’d have a good time. Even if they don’t often show up, keep inviting them. It feels good to be included.

Commit to being there for the hard days

Birthdays, the anniversary of a divorce, a due date for a pregnancy that ended early—some days will be tougher for your friend than others. Mark these dates on your calendar and make a point to reach out around that time. Remind their close friends of these dates, too.

Don’t rush the process

There’s no exact timeline or perfect way to work through grief, heartbreak, and other hardship; your friend will heal at their own pace. Resist the urge to hurry them along. Listen without judgment or advice. Avoid saying things about how they’re “getting back to normal” or “seeming like their old self.” Instead, help them return to past activities and hobbies when they’re ready—or find new interests or activities to try out together.

Follow their lead

People cope differently, so pay attention to what your friend wants and help them get there. If they want to keep the memory of a loved one alive, support them in that. If they want to learn more about an illness they’ve been diagnosed with, help them make a list of questions for their doctor. Maybe they feel like no one understands their situation. Consider finding a support group or connecting them to someone who has had a similar experience.

Remind them how far they’ve come

Maybe you’ve noticed that your friend is getting stronger or is more able to do things that would have seemed impossible a few weeks or months ago. It can be easier for you to notice small changes because you have a little distance from their situation. Let your friend know that you see their strength. Remind them how far they’ve come. Share how proud you are of what they’ve accomplished. Positive messages like these can be a powerful way to stand up to permanence, the false notion that things will always be this hard. Things can get better, and you can help your friend see that.

Endnotes

  1. K. Kaniasty and F. H. Norris, “A test of the social support deterioration model in the context of natural disaster,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 64, no. 3 (1993): 395.