It is always hard to know how to help when a loved one is grieving or depressed.
At Christmas, though, there is extra awkward pressure. You want to give something, but you can get paralysed if you start to worry about all the ways you cannot help.
You won’t be able to bring their lost loved one back. You can’t erase the trauma or heal the damage in their brain. There is no right answer that will make everything suddenly alright.
But that doesn’t mean your gift will be meaningless.
On the contrary, you have the power to make a huge difference. You simply need to reach out, convey empathy, and offer something that will make their dark days a little easier.
“Just bring them food,” says our favourite imaginary rodent. “That’s how raccoons offer support. Sometimes, we even change out the bedding in the den. Nothing says comfort like a fresh pile of dead lives, pinecones, and spruce branches.”
I think what Critter is trying to say, is it helps to be practical.
I have found that no matter what people have given me, the thing I have needed most when I am in my dark pit has been to hear, “Let me help you with that.”
Those are the most powerful words you can possibly say or write. They shrink our unfathomable misery from an inescapable negative force that pervades the entire universe, into a single, black cave; “I am here to help” centres us inside a contained experience of shittiness that has a beginning and an end. It helps us to realise our dark cocoon is surrounded on the outside by friends.
With that in mind, here are 15 gifts that say to your loved one who is struggling, “Let’s make this easier.”
The following list contains some items that are pricey or unavailable in some areas. Use these ideas as a springboard for your own supportive gesture.
If you do choose to purchase something through our affiliate links, Critter and I will receive a little thank-you from Amazon to help keep me supplied with Terry’s Chocolate Oranges (and keep Critter supplied with lickable wrappers).
Without further ado…
- Empathy Cards by Emily McDowell: this line of sympathy cards says exactly what you feel but can’t put into words.
- Sunshine After the Storm edited by Alexa Bigwarfe: this collection of essays by moms who have lost a child holds comfort, connection, expression, and hope for grieving parents.
- A Self-Care Package: as part of their non-profit work, Sunshine After the Storm sends care packages to bereaved families. You can add your love and support to this effort by donating to SATS, requesting a package for yourself or someone you know, or creating your own bundle of pampering and self love for someone in your life you needs it most.
- Light Therapy for Seasonal Depression: this is kind of a personal item, but if someone you know has expressed an interest in Light Therapy, providing a lamp can bring big relief. Make sure the recipient knows to mention their Light Therapy to their doctor if they are also taking antidepressant meds, and to keep an eye out for issues with insomnia or manic behaviour.
- Roomba: this is an expensive gift, but if you happen to have the money (or access to a handyman who can repair a cheap fixer-upper), this little cleaning machine can be a life changer. Mine makes my house feel livable, and makes me feel like a competent homemaker, when I can’t seem to win at anything else.
- Meal Delivery Service (Canada or USA): This is a triple win for someone who is struggling to get by; it provides healing nourishment, relieves the labour of meal-planning, shopping, and produce prep, and gives another precious self-confidence boost when the receiver sits down to a fresh, delicious meal that they made with their own, worn-out hands.
- The Way of the Wizard, by Deepak Chopra: This book was lent to me by my sister when I was struggling with deep post-partum depression. I’ve had it for five years now, and am not sure I can give it back, because I go back to it again and again to find comfort, purpose, and hope.
- The Harry Potter Series, by JK Rowling: Harry’s horrible misfortune and mistreatment speak to me when I’m wrecked, and his very human struggles to do the right thing make me want to keep fighting. Even if the Dark Lord of my life is only my brain chemistry.
- The Song of Ice and Fire Series, by George RR Martin: Like all great fantasy, the Game of Thrones stories provide a passionate escape from one’s own head. In dark times, losing ourselves in another world can be the only pleasure strong enough to get us through the day.
- 50 Shades of Grey, by EL James: speaking of pleasure, these stories are all about the concept of pleasure-seeking, and there is a thin thread of comfort in seeing the anxiety-ridden Grey create a successful relationship – albeit a hopelessly unrealistic one. Nevertheless, I think 50 Shades went viral because it hit our need for escapism on the head, and this is a very valuable tool in the battle with depression and grief.
- An eReader: For a book-lover, an eReader means easy access to gazillions of books. The ability to purchase ebooks online or borrow them from the library means that a really worn-out individual can keep their mind fed even when they can’t leave the house.
- Alice in Wonderland Colouring Book: There is something dark and comforting about Lewis Carrols’ strange tales. Colouring the original illustrations could be a fortifying meditation on our own surreal experiences with grief, and the fact that, like Alice, we’re still standing.
- Curse Words Colouring Book: This is just a lovely way to process our fucking rage about all of the fucked up shit around us.
- Use Your Words – A Mothers’ Writing Guide, by Kate Hopper: This book is like a beginner’s workshop on how to write about the experiences that won’t let you go. It has guided me through many cathartic essays and writing exercises, and is definitely one of the reasons I started to blog.
- A Mini Chromebook: For under $300, a Chromebook mini laptop (like the Acer CB3-131 that I own and adore) gives easy access to everything that is good and healing about the internet: social media connections to people you can’t visit or don’t know how to talk to in person; forums, support groups, and blogs that connect you to other people’s real life struggles, triumphs, and insights; and the incredibly enriching experience of writing your own messages of strength through your social media or blog.
Critter and I hope that this list has reassured you that you can, indeed, make a difference for someone struggling with depression or grief this Christmas. Remember, this list is not exhaustive. Just let it get you thinking about the ways you can relate to what your loved one is feeling, and offer something from your heart that lightens their burden this Christmas.
Critter says, if all else fails, a nice pile of candy bar wrappers you haven’t finished licking always goes over well at raccoon Christmas.
That’s gross, Critter.