Linda Geist

MACON, Mo. – Upcoming gatherings can be a sad reminder of who’s not home for the holidays this year.

Merriment of the season sometimes highlights loneliness and loss of a loved one through death, illness, distance or broken relationship, said Jeremiah Terrell, University of Missouri Extension human development and family studies specialist. For many, there’s nothing worse than feeling alone in a crowd of laughing friends and relatives.

Reach out to those who have lost someone or are in a difficult situation, Terrell said. Also recognize that how you reach out matters, he said.

“Be available,” he said. “Let them know that you are willing to be present and support them.”

He said Gary Chapman’s book “The 5 Love Languages” helps us understand how to reach out to others during the holidays and other times of the year. Chapman says there are five ways to show love and support: physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, receiving gifts and acts of service.

Terrell said it’s important to know how people receive love before we give love. “Understanding how they receive love helps you understand and helps them cope with their grief,” he said.

Here are some tips on how to show concern for someone during the holiday season or throughout the year:

• Simple acts of kindness such as a phone call, email or card lets someone know that your thoughts are with them.

• Invite them over for a meal or to dine out with you rather than taking a meal to their home. If you take a meal, they will eat alone.

• Be sensitive to their pride. “Don’t give the person the idea that they are your ‘project’ for the holidays. Sometimes people mean well, but it can be humiliating for the individual you mean to help,” Terrell said.

• Don’t talk too much about their loss. Listen instead. Just a simple word or pat on the arm “might speak volumes to them,” he says.

• Don’t minimize their loss by saying you know exactly how they feel. You can talk about your own experiences and losses, but no one’s grief is the same.

• Don’t wait to be asked. Instead of saying, “Let me know if I can help,” offer something concrete such as a shared meal or an evening to look at seasonal decorations.

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