How to support your grieving friends this Christmas

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Christmas tree elf decorations wearing love heart jumpers

It’s Christmas Eve. Your presents should be wrapped, your turkey will soon be in the oven, and you’ve probably aleady started on the Prosecco. And if you haven’t watched Love Actually by now, you haven’t got long left.

It’s Love, Actually

It’s a Christmas tradition, isn’t it – watching Love Actually. I’ve watched it twice already, and it makes me weep every time. It’s a beautiful film all about friendship, romance and family at Christmas. It’s full of great messages, like prioritising spending time with loved ones over the Christmas period. But the film does include a few messages that are less helpful – you should never, ever run through airport security, even if you’re a really cute kid.

Get a grip. People hate sissies. And no one’s going to love you if you cry all the time

Less than helpful advice

Another scene in Love Actually that I struggle with is when Daniel (played by Liam Neeson) visits Karen (played by Emma Thompson) after his wife’s funeral. Daniel is clearly completely broken by the loss of his wife, and confused with how to look after his stepson Sam as a now single parent. He is in the very start of a long journey of grief, and looking to a friend for good advice on how to cope. Instead, as he begins to cry, Karen says: “Get a grip. People hate sissies. And no one’s going to love you if you cry all the time”.

A different approach

If you have a friend who has recently lost someone very close to them, it should be pretty obvious that it is not helpful to tell them to “get a grip”. I’m aware that Love Actually is a fun, fictional film – but it’s still worth pointing out that telling someone to pull themself together is exactly what they don’t need to hear in the midst of grief. Regardless of gender, those who have lost someone should be encouraged to express their emotion, talk to their friends about how they’re feeling, and cry if they need to.

Are they really coping?

For over two years, friends and family would say to me, “how well you are coping!”, “you seem so strong”, “your mum would be so proud of how well you’re doing”. It was true – I barely cried, always spoke of how great I was, hardly thought of mum. The world thought I was excelling in grief. In fact, I was failing – miserably. In shutting out any negative thoughts, not thinking about mum, and never letting myself cry, I wasn’t processing what had happened to me, and I hadn’t even started to grieve. I hadn’t really been coping at all, and eventually that caught up with me – and my grief when it came was cruel, harsh and intense.

I’m calling for a Christmas revolution

How you can help your friends

Supporting a friend or loved one who has lost someone might feel overwhelming. Where on earth should you start? What should you say? Or should you not say anything? What if they cry? We’re British – we couldn’t possibly cope with someone showing any emotion! But doesn’t that sound ridiculous when I write it down. All you need is to be there – to listen, to hold their hand, to nod along as they talk – whatever it is, you need to let your friend grieve, rather than stop them and tell them to get a grip.

I’m calling for a Christmas revolution. It’s time we stop ignoring loss, and start talking about it. It’s time to call Karen out for her terrible advice, and support our friends and loved ones when they need us most. It’s Christmas – time for love, laughter, friendship, support… and watching Love Actually at least three times!

If you have a story to share, I’d love to hear from you. Email or follow us on social media.

Support our Crowdfunder

We’re raising funds to keep offering our services in 2022. If you could spare a few pounds, every donation will be doubled by the National Emergencies Trust, so please do donate if you can!