Elizabeth Edwards has comported herself with grace and class in a life that has seen more than its fair share of heartbreak, and that now appears to be ending far too soon with the announcement that she has made the decision to stop treatment for breast cancer.
Her life expectancy is mere weeks now. That's a difficult thing for any person to accept and for their loved ones to accept, but as this is happening just as "the most wonderful time of the year" gets into full swing, it's that much harder.
There's no way to make saying goodbye to a loved one easy, but there are ways the Edwards children can take care of themselves emotionally; the same goes for anyone who's facing loss this season.
The most important thing is for them to acknowledge to themselves and everyone else that this holiday season is not going to be normal.
Every family has its holiday traditions and rituals, and it can be strange and awkward to try to continue them when you're grieving an impending loss ... or they can be comforting reminders of happier times. Most experts say the important thing is to realize which traditions still work for you and which need to go by the wayside. Since Elizabeth Edwards still seems to be doing OK, it would be worthwhile to ask her what she wants to have happen.
Another important thing is for the family to speak up and ask for what help they need. Maybe they want to be left alone and could use some help running interference with busybodies; maybe they want distractions from their loved one's death. One friend asked us specifically to come over and have a beer with them when they were grieving the death of a parent; they wanted to laugh and have a break from all the heaviness.
If you have a friend who is facing the loss of a loved one this holiday season, the most important thing is to let them know you are thinking of them; acknowledge the loss even if it feels awkward.
Don't assume that you know how they will feel about celebrating: Go ahead and invite them to parties or to join you for Christmas dinner, and make clear that you'll understand if at the last minute they just can't do it. And offer real, concrete help versus "let us know what we can do"; the support is appreciated, but it could be more helpful to, say, volunteer to walk their dog, or make phone calls, or even do holiday decorating for them if they want it.
Whether you're the family member facing a loss or the friend who wants to help, kindness, empathy, and communication are key.
Image via Tony the Misfit/Flickr