Grief takes its toll on us, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Then, “special” days like Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, holidays, and birthdays come around, emphasizing love and togetherness. If you have a grieving friend who has lost a spouse or significant other, those special days can be particularly difficult. The one who filled their hearts is gone and these days only emphasize that loss. So, what can we do as friends, family members, and neighbors to help our bereaved loved ones on these special days of the year?

Listen

Listening is one of the most powerful things we can do for grieving friends. Grief is unique from person to person. No two people grieve the same way and having a safe person to talk to is a special gift. Make time for your grieving friends, allow them to talk about any feelings or emotions, and provide a listening and attentive ear. This isn’t time to give advice – this is time to listen, to sympathize, and to comfort. Expect to hear a multitude of emotions. As complex beings, we experience sadness, anger, confusion, shock, relief, guilt, and other similar emotions after a loss. All of these are normal responses to loss, so be prepared to hear any or all of them.

Measure Your Words

More often than not, it’s the words we use that get us into uncomfortable situations. So, when talking with your grieving friends, make sure to carefully measure your words. Your intentions may be good, but the execution may fall short. Avoid things like, “Don’t be sad. Think of all the good years you had,” or “They wouldn’t want you to feel this way.” Instead, focus on comforting them. Say, “I can’t imagine what you’re feeling, but I’m here for you,” or “My heart aches for you,” or simply hug them and let your presence speak more than your words. For more helpful hints on what NOT to say to a grieving friend, click here.

Let Them Express Their Feelings

If we’re honest, sometimes emotions make us feel uncomfortable, but emotions are a part of being human. We all have them, and when we are feeling strongly, the emotions need to find expression so we can get them out rather than keeping them in. That said, it’s important to allow your grieving friends to express what’s going on inside. Let them rant, rage, or cry. Afterward, simply hold their hands or offer a comforting embrace. Then, if possible, talk with them about more ways to express their emotions, whether through writing, creative expression, or even exercise.

Help Them Honor Their Loved One’s Memory

Though death means our loved one is no longer physically with us, it does not end the relationship we have with them. The bonds of love are never gone – we will always love that person. On special days, encourage your grieving friend to find a way to honor the memory of a loved one and join them in the activity, if they allow it. That may be cooking a lost spouse’s favorite meals at home, watching a favorite movie, planting a memorial tree, donating to a cherished non-profit, giving blood, or even volunteering at a favorite charity or organization. Whatever will be meaningful to your grieving friend is the right thing to do.

Encourage Them to Pamper Themselves

When we’re grieving, we don’t always take time to care for ourselves. But grief is hard work and caring for ourselves is an important part of keeping our spirits and our energy up. As a special day begins to approach, encourage your grieving friend to do something for themselves. For women, that may mean a day of shopping, going to the spa, or simply getting dinner at a favorite lunch spot and talking. A gift card for such an activity can go a long way toward saying “I’m thinking of you.” For men, it may be a nice massage, a night out with the guys, or a day on the golf course. Whatever the case may be, encourage them to take time to re-charge and do something that will rejuvenate them.

Send a Thoughtful Gift

No matter what the special day may be – Valentine’s, an anniversary, Christmas – find a way to thoughtfully show your care and consideration. Send a card that lets them know you are thinking of them. Or give a thoughtful gift. Depending on the special day, you might send flowers, chocolates, a book, or a mug with a few favorite teas to the ladies. For men, a card, chocolates, a book, or even a gift card to a favorite store would be thoughtful. Better yet, get some of your mutual friends to join in with you to shower the person with love! The point is, find a way to let them know you care about them on this special day and are thinking about them.

Ask Your Grieving Friend to Dinner

The special days are particularly hard because they are often days your friend would have spent with their spouse or close loved one. Instead, treat them to dinner at a fun place, complete with dessert and all the trimmings. Or if you’re able, plan a full day of activities to make the day special. Schedule some of your friend’s favorite activities, go to a favorite restaurant, go to a movie, and re-invent the day. Allow your friend moments to grieve but also fill the day with happy memories to cherish.

Invite Them to Volunteer

Often, it’s helpful to think of others when we are going through tough times ourselves. If your friend is more civic- and community-minded, invite them to volunteer with you. Instead of allowing sad emotions to reign on the special days, turn the day into an opportunity to give back and bring a little joy into the lives of others. This could mean volunteering at a local soup kitchen, packing donation boxes to send to children in need, or visiting nursing homes and chatting with lonely seniors. Research shows that volunteering gives us a greater sense of purpose and boosts mood, which is something a grieving friend sometimes needs.

Offer to Watch the Kids or Help Around the House

Depending on their stage in life, your grieving friends may need different things. If they still have children in the house, offer to watch the kids while they have some much-needed time to themselves or get a few errands out of the way. If your friend is older or doesn’t have children, find out if there’s anything you can do around the house to help. That may mean fixing a leaky faucet or cooking up some casseroles for the freezer. Often, it’s the simple kindnesses that mean the most.

Follow-up and Be Consistent

Even after the special day has passed, make sure to follow-up with your grieving friend. Call them to ask how they are, what they’ve been up to, and what they have coming up. Leave a cheerful voicemail and let them know you look forward to talking to them soon. In other words, simply be their friend all through the year. That way, when the special days come and the grief comes to the surface, you are ready and available to step in and offer your friendship, love, and support as they once again face the loss of their spouse or significant other. But thankfully, they aren’t doing it alone – they have friends and family beside them through it all.