What to get for the woman who has everything (that their dead parent ever bought and left behind)

Sometimes Christmas sucks, okay?

When you’re grieving, the holidays can be stressful for many reasons. 1.) You’ve gotta see people who you never see, so you have to catch up about everything, meaning they have to catch up on their condolences; 2.) You have to make a choice to either fake being okay (exhausting) or settle into your sadness (exhausting); 3.) Being home sometimes means the pressure of having to go through a ton of your loved one’s things, which means making hard decisions and dealing with sad memories; 4.) It’s “THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!” for everyone else, when for you it might just be another crappy day to power through.

My mom died about two and a half months before Christmas, which made our first Christmas without her feel super soon, super numb, and weirdly normal. We did all of the things we usually did, and I didn’t actually cry with the whole fam until dinner.

We (/they) laughed when I burned the cranberry sauce. We opened gifts that my mom had already started collecting. And we watched all the movies we had every year prior, just without her on the couch.

It sucked and was hard in weird ways. And as Christmas comes closer now (when I’m feeling a lot more feels and less shocked) it’s different. I’m realizing that there are things that my dad can buy now that my mom would have gotten for me every year (perfume), but what’s really important is figuring out 1.) how to do the things I need to do to feel safe to be sad, and 2.) being in the places I need to be with my people.

In short, the “stuff” can be less important than the rituals. So if you wanna help someone, here are a few things I’d consider doing for a friend who is grieving their way through the holidays. It doesn’t always have to involve buying or things — sometimes getting outside of the (gift)box can help more than a $15 Starbucks card.

1. Ask them what would make THEM feel good.

This is definitely my go-to. Because not everyone needs another candle or throw blanket. And not everyone needs to sit and talk through their feels during one of the most exhausting seasons of the year. Maybe what they need isn’t a stand-up mixer, but a quick coffee date to their fave pastry shop. Maybe what they need isn’t a CD to play in their car, but company on a road trip to gtfo of town after the holiday madness. MAYBE! What they need is to go HARD on Christmas this year because THAT is what makes them feel good — their deceased loved one might have looooved the holidays and in their grief, your friend needs to celebrate it fully! Then: Bring. It. On. Mix up the eggnog, pick all of the red and green M&Ms out of the bag, and show up with (jingle) bells on.

2. Just HANG with them

This could mean a lot of different activities, but what’s important is that you just show up and be present. I know that you might be hesitant because you’re afraid that hanging out could just mean having to watch them cry (which it could, of course) or being awkward (also, this could happen). BUT! There are a few things to keep in mind when making plans with a friend who is grieving:

Maybe they don’t wanna talk about stuff, so…

Tell them that you’re available when they need a break from the rest of their fam and friends and obligations. Be the person that’ll take them to the movies, where they can leave home and don’t have to talk to anyone (including you).

Maybe they do want to talk about stuff, but aren’t necessarily going to be sad, so…

Plan an afternoon or evening doing something that’s a hardcore throwback. If they need to take their mind off of things, this could serve as a great way to spend really fun times doing something nostalgic or reminiscent of a time when things were pretty damn good. If they don’t need things to be shut out, but do need a safe space to just melt into a puddle and relax, doing something you used to do wayback could give them an atmosphere that feels safe enough to just let go. Personally, I’m thinking of the days when my best friend and I used to drive around the suburbs with the windows down, blasting Bright Eyes albums, and eating bags of old grapes #SoCal.

Maybe they do want to talk about stuff AND are going to be sad as hell, so…

Be there. Deal with it. Psyche yourself up and bring the tissues. Grief can lead to incredible isolation and difficulty opening up about something that they deal with every day. So if you can find a way to give them the space, rock on.

3. Put together a care package (in advance)

Okay okay okay, sometimes “things” are the best way to go. And I’m biased, because I f’ing love good care packages. When they’re made by people who know you best, it’s an incredible feeling to sigh of relief knowing someone still gets you. And care packages don’t just need to include a random collection of random things. And they definitely don’t need to be something like a collage of a million pictures of the deceased face (yes, people do this, and yes, it can be terribly triggering #lolbutlikewhyudothat?).

Consider sending ingredients for a hot toddy and account info for them to download a movie. Or a grocery store delivery of fixings for their favourite dish, Skype credit to call you, and you can cook together from afar (see: my long distance dating expertise coming in here). Or a new scarf and gloves, scavenger hunt map of their neighborhood, and a bunch of totally awesome snacks and gifts on hold at their favourite shops (to get them up and out and about). Or a pack of earplugs, a “talk to the hand” t-shirt circa 1995, and 5 mini airplane bottles of “adult juice” to get through dinner their their racist drunk uncle that makes the holidays just that much harder.

4. Write them a letter or a card or a text or an email (full of gifs, preferably)

Maybe your friend lives really far away or you just won’t have time to physically be a support system for them this season. Writing a letter or a card is a great way to send them something tangible, something they can keep and refer back to, and something cool to put next to all of the other holiday cards that aren’t as personal. When choosing a card, remember that you don’t have to send something sappy or even holiday-themed. See a thank you card and wanna thank them for something they helped YOU out with this year? Send that to remind them that they’re a freakin’ awesome friend, even when they’re going through it. See a card featuring puppies with googly eyes glued on their faces? Send that to remind them that yes, life sucks sometimes, but we can still laugh at puppies.

Alica Forneret