November 22, 2019

Comforting the grieving while gathered for Thanksgiving

Heather Servaty-Seib Heather Servaty-Seib (Purdue University photo/Rebecca Wilcox) Download image

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — How can we assist those grieving when everyone is celebrating during Thanksgiving and the holiday season?

Tangible support can be key to supporting individuals who are grieving in light of the holiday season, says Heather Servaty-Seib, a professor of counseling psychology in Purdue University’s College of Education.

Servaty-Seib researches the experiences of grief and loss and can speak on what grieving individuals need from their support systems.

After the loss of someone, grieving people feel a sense of isolation even from their closest friends and family.

“If you know the family well enough, if you know the person well enough, it's great to think about tangible kinds of support, not just emotional support,” said Servaty-Seib, also the associate dean of student life in the Honors College. “What's a task that they are just not going to be up to doing or have the energy to do? But the other part of it is just being with them. Grief can bring up anxiety for support providers, and it is important to find ways to be with grieving friends, to push through your own anxiety and focus on being there for them.”

Those looking to support someone grieving often have to get over their own discomfort in order to offer help. Assisting someone in the grieving process requires individuals to push through their own anxieties and to keep in mind that their friend needs them, Servaty-Seib said.

 “There is this perception that there should be something family and friends can do that is like a magic bullet for people grieving,” she said. “There are no ultimate words of wisdom that will somehow dissipate the grief. Nothing they say is going to fix it.”

Everyone who has experienced loss grieves in their own way. It’s important to remain mindful of the loss but to still see the person for who they are, she said.

“Remembering who your friend is as a person and not thinking that now this grief changes all of who they were. Grief does change people but at the essence people grieve based on who they are as people,” she said. 

Writer: Madison Sanneman, 

Media contact: Brian Huchel, 765-494-2084,  

Source: Heather Servaty-Seib, 765-494-0837,

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