On July 3, 2017 we lost a beloved family member suddenly and tragically.
It wasn’t a beautiful passing at the end of a long, full life. There wasn’t plenty of time to say goodbye. It was abrupt and scary and sad.
To me he was Uncle Mark.
To my kids he was Papa Choppa.
And to others he was husband, father, son, brother, neighbor, and friend.
And his death affected everyone - albeit in different ways.
His wasn’t the first death I’ve experienced. But after he died I was left with a question that I had never known before in the face of death:
What could I have done differently?
A month before he died, Papa Choppa tried to FaceTime me and my boys, but we were at a museum and I didn’t answer. And I never called him back. I don’t know why I can’t get that out of my head. I guess because now - in hindsight - I know it would have been the last time we talked.
I can’t actually remember the last time we talked. I can only remember the last missed opportunity.
That’s what I think about. What could I have done differently?
In a week, my whole family is going to get together to celebrate Christmas, but Uncle Mark won’t be there. And he will be missed. It will make me sad he’s not there.
But, while I will miss him, I’ll be spending more time thinking about how my Aunt is doing. She didn’t lose an Uncle. She lost a husband. A best friend. The person she was supposed to do the rest of her life with.
Christmas can be a brutal time for someone who has lost a loved one. Everyone knows that. But how do you help? How do you help someone who has lost a loved one at Christmas?
You can’t fix it. You can’t make up for it. You can’t bring the loved one back.
But too often we miss the opportunity to help. Why?
I’m no grief guru! I’m not a psychologist! I’m no spiritual master! I don’t know the right words to say! I don’t know what to do! I’m going to upset someone, or hurt them, or make it worse.
The one thing that stops most people from helping someone who has lost a loved one at Christmas is fear that somehow you are going to make it worse. Which, when you really think about it, is absurd.
Do you really think you can make losing a spouse, or a child, or a parent, or a sibling, worse for someone? I’m going to bet it’s already as bad as it can get.
But HOW do I help?
The reality is that there is no single ‘right’ way to help someone who has lost a loved one at Christmas. You can google the topic and find plenty of lists full of ideas. And some of them might help, and some of them might not. Everyone is different. Every situation is different.
You can only decide what is right for you and your loved one.
Here’s what I’m going to do to try to help.
That’s about it. Three simple things. It’s not much, but that’s what I can do. And I hope it will help my aunt know that I care, that my family cares, that Uncle Mark is loved, and that she is loved.
What might work for you?
These are just a few ideas. In the end, you have to do what is right for you and your family. Don’t be pushy or over the top. Simple is usually better. And make sure you respect the wishes of whoever has lost the loved one. If he or she doesn’t want stories told, or prayers prayed, then don’t do it.
Don’t let the fear of making things worse paralyze you from offering help and comfort. The great irony is that doing nothing - saying nothing, ignoring the topic, pretending everything is fine, moving right along as if nothing happened - that probably IS the one and only way to make things worse.
So do something. Remember. Care. Spread some love.
I’ve learned my lesson. I never want to have to ask myself again: what could I have done differently?
May God bless you and bring comfort and healing to all those you love this Christmas.
My name is Dominick Albano and I'm an author, speaker, and consultant.