Holiday Host Etiquette When a Guest is Grieving

We love the following guide from Sarah Nannen, founder of The Center for Grief & Growth, on how to host people who are grieving at your holiday get-together this year. We saw it on her Facebook page and asked if we could share it with you – we’re so happy she said yes!

If you’re inviting someone to your home and they’re grieving, be sure you’re inviting their grief to attend, too. It will be there, anyway.

  • Don’t invite someone with the goal of cheering them up for the holidays. Don’t expect them to put on a happy face in your home. Don’t demand they fake it til they make it or do something they don’t want to do, either.
  • Invite them with the loving intention of offering cheer and companionship and unconditional care during the holidays. To do this, you will need to honor and be responsive to their needs and emotions. You can do this by privately acknowledging their grief when you make the invitation: “I know this season is extra hard and your heart is hurting. You and your grief are welcome in our home. Come as you are, we’d be honored to have you with us.”
  • It’s also incredibly loving to honor the reality that it’s often hard for grieving folks to know what they will want, need, be up for, or able to tolerate at the holidays.
  • Giving them an invite without the need for commitment and permission to change their mind is extra loving: “You don’t have to decide right now. If it feels good to be with us, we will have plenty of food and love for you-just show up! I’ll check in again the day before to see if you’re feeling up to coming over and if there’s anything you’d like me to know about how we can support you.”
  • Your grieving friends and fam need attentive care and responsiveness at the holidays, not plans to keep them busy, distracted, and happy.
  • If they’re laughing, laugh with them.
  • If they’re weeping, ask if they’d like your company or your help finding a quiet place to snuggle up alone for awhile.
  • If they’re laughing while weeping, and this is more common than you’d think, stay with them – this is a precious moment of the human experience that is truly sacred.
  • We don’t need to protect ourselves or each other from grief at the holidays. In fact, the more we embrace grief as an honored holiday guest, the more healthy, happy, and whole our holidays will be.

Sarah Nannen is a grief guide, writer/author, and podcast host. She became a military widow and solo mom in 2014 when an aviation accident claimed her late husband’s life. Her personal journey through grief informs her vast body of work supporting folks who are growing and living as they grieve (and the people who love them). Sarah is the author of the best-selling book Grief Unveiled and is writing a forthcoming book on the topic of emotional care for grieving friends and family. Sarah holds a trauma studies certificate from Pacifica Graduate Institute where she is also pursuing an MA in Counseling Psychology with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy, Professional Clinical Counseling, and Depth Psychology. Visit