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It’s the most wonderful time of the year. At least, that’s what the Hallmark Channel and commercials would have us believe. But grief doesn’t take a holiday, and if you know someone who is grieving, a thoughtful and healing gift can make all the difference.
The truth is that not everyone is feeling so festive. In fact, a 2021 survey indicated that 36% of people in the U.S. didn’t feel like celebrating the holidays because of a sense of grief or loss.
They aren’t alone, and neither are you. Megan Devine, a psychotherapist, podcast host, author, and grief advocate, lost her husband in 2009. The two had typically spent the holidays just the two of them. After he passed, Devine suddenly faced expectations to attend gatherings she usually skipped.
As a result, she understands the holidays can be especially difficult for people.
The reasons grief can get exacerbated for people may vary, and Devine knows her experience won’t be the same for others. But common challenges and triggers during the holidays for grieving people may include:
- an empty seat at the table
- traditions that no longer feel right
- pressure to make the holidays joyous for other surviving family members
- additional conflict with family members
And finally, there are expectations from people not experiencing the same loss.
“There’s the dread of how other people are going to behave around you or treat you, whether they’re going to expect you to be sad or fine,” Devine says. “People feel they have to ‘perform’ emotionally.”
Meeting people where they are emotionally is one of the best gifts you can give a grieving person during the holidays (or anytime). But Devine says something tangible can also add some sparkle to a person’s holiday season.
Grief Coach subscription
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported a therapist shortage in 2022, citing the increased mental strain from the pandemic as a major reason. The limited number of therapists can make it more challenging for a grieving person to find much-needed support. Devine says it shouldn’t be so hard and suggests taking the guesswork out of grief and support with a Grief Coach subscription.
Grief Coach offers people text-based therapy year-round. But it goes a step further. Support people (friends or family who want to help) can sign up and receive tips and reminders via text.
Devine says it’s like having a support team in your pocket.
Gift subscriptions are $99. Gift-givers can use the code “MEGANDEVINE” for a $10 discount.
Soothing candles from The After Company
Lisa Marie Patchem founded The After Company after her family struggled to find the right words to say to one another following the death of her brother in 2014. She hopes the candles give people a chance to breathe and be present. Devine believes they do. She loves the scents, which aren’t too overpowering, and packaging that doesn’t use platitudes like “Heaven needed another angel” and “Everything happens for a reason.”
“[Patchem] knows that grief isn’t a problem to be solved,” Devine says, adding that the candles bring a little light to a grieving friend’s life.
Candles start at $37.99, and there’s one specifically for the holidays.
DIY art therapy with Art Toolkit
A 2021 review suggested that art therapy was an effective complementary and alternative treatment for mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Devine loves the idea of gifting the ability to paint and draw wherever, whenever, and she recommends Art Toolkit. Though not formal art therapy, the supplies offer the recipient a way to use art to tackle their grief head-on or escape it for a moment, wherever their travels take them. Each kit comes with a durable nylon cover that protects supplies, such as a waterproof fine pen and sketchbooks. The smaller kit is available for $92, while a larger one is $105.
A thoughtful book bundle
Devine suggests her book “It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand.“It sounds like self-promotion, but she’s not the only one who recommends it. The book is a top-seller on Amazon and boasts 4.7 stars out of 5 from more than 8K previous buyers. In the book, Devine nixes the idea of a “return to a happy normal” and instead offers practical advice to improve sleep and stress without seeing grief as a hurdle to overcome.
It pairs well with “How to Carry What Can’t Be Fixed: A Journal for Grief,” which also has 4.7 stars on Amazon and can be found in indie bookstores. The journal is short on cliches and emphasizes approaching grief with honesty and kindness.
Gift cards for everyday needs
Meal trains and impromptu grocery runs are common ways to show support, especially in the early days of grief. Though well-meaning, Devine advises people to proceed with caution.
“Your person might not have room in their fridge[for all that food],” Devine says.
The person may be out of state for the funeral, or they may simply not feel like eating much, a common issue during challenging times. But then, all that food goes to waste. Instead, Devine recommends giving the person control over how much they spend and get on items with useful gift cards, such as for:
Logistical support with Lantern
Death doesn’t just bring about emotional grief. It also presents a laundry list of to-dos, from paying bills to closing social media accounts. Every new bill in your loved one’s name can feel like picking off a BandAid.
Devine recommends gifting a loved one dealing with the administrative burdens of loss a Lantern consult. After an initial consult, a consultant will put together a personalized package for your friend, which may include closing credit cards, managing downsizing, and building a support team of attorneys, financial planners, and CPAs. A flat rate of $600 includes a 60-minute intake session, customized action plans, and support and assistance to work through the to-do list.
Comfy Bombas slippers
“Anything warm and cozy makes a great gift,” Devine says.
Devine loves Bombas slippers and notes they’re a gift that gives back. “For each pair purchased, they donate another pair to someone in need,” she says.
There are tons of different colors and designs available for adults and youth. Youth slippers start at around $30, while adult ones are typically $45 and up.
While giving a thoughtful gift based around someone’s grief is a well-meaning gesture, it may not be well-received. Some people may not wish to be reminded of their loss during the holidays. How can you figure out which camp your loved one is in? Quite simply: Ask.
“Always follow the person’s lead,” Devine says.
Devine recommends saying something along the lines of, “The holidays are coming up, and I would love to give you a gift connected to your sibling, but I want to check and see if that would feel good to you. And if not, that’s perfectly OK.”
That last part is critical.
“Make sure there’s no pressure around your idea,” Devine says. “And if they say no, respect their answer.”
Though the conversation may feel challenging, Devine says it’s essentially another gift.
“Being willing to feel awkward in order for someone else to feel supported and seen is an amazing way to show your love,” she says.
Ready for a calm and stress-free holiday? Check out Healthline’s Season of Self-Care, your go-to destination for the latest must-have health and wellness gifts for your loved ones – and you!