A death during a holiday often puts a cloud over that holiday season for the family for many years to come. For those who have never gone through this grief experience, it is often hard to understand. It does not help that many of us find it difficult to talk with anyone about death. Often people are at loss about what to say to someone who has had a death in the family. Probably the wisest thing to say is a simple, “I’m sorry for your loss.” But more important than our words is the message we convey, and that message should be, “I care.” People who are acutely grieving generally do not find a theological treatise or platitudes to be helpful, so you do not have to say something profound. You just need to show them that you care. This may mean letting them talk about the loved one who has died, even if it is uncomfortable for you; it may mean sharing tears with them; it may mean helping them with a task that their loved one used to do until they can learn to do it for themselves.
One of the things I have learned from talking with others and from my own life is that the death of someone you love is not something you ever “get over.” However, with time and with caring family and friends, your loved one’s death is something you can learn to live with. I believe that when someone close to you dies, a part of you dies with them. You have the sense that part of you is missing. Important dates that you shared with your loved one like birthdays and anniversaries, as well as many incidental things that come up each day, remind us of who is missing. The best illustration I can give to help others understand how this prolongs the grieving process is the pebble in a pond. If you think of a perfectly still pond, and then imagine a pebble being dropped into the pond, you can envision the ripples that come from the point where the pebble drops into the water. The largest ripples are those that are the closest to where the pebble entered the water; that is the area that takes the most time to return to a calm surface. In the same way, the person who is emotionally the closest to the person who dies can be expected to take the longest time to be able to live with that loss. Since we are all different, there is no standard for how long acute grieving should last, but a range of six months to two years would be expected for most of us. What will help us most while we learn to live with this loss are kind words and a caring spirit.