Not failing at Christmas

A general post about not feeling a failure, no matter how we cope with Christmas when we’re grieving.

I was really hoping that my Christmas present would be a driving license. I wrote about finally trying to learn to drive some time back. In the past months I’ve been having lessons and practicing. I’m not doing too bad; it does not feel quite as unnatural to be behind the steering wheel now and it’s nice to share the driving load with John when we  travel around to our various events.

But there will be no shiny bright new license under the tree for me this week. Sadly, I failed my test. Never mind, I can try again next year. I don’t feel too bad; lots of people fail on their first attempt, and at least I didn’t do any dangerous faults. You can guess that one my goals for next year is to try again and to pass.

Technically it was a failure – definitely! On the other hand, at least I have the experience of taking a test and working through the natural nervousness. At least I understand how it works. And also, at least I am not driving alone on the roads if I am not ready to do so. So in some respects it wasn’t a failure but something I can chalk up to experience.

I am being very positive here, perhaps a wee bit more positive than I honestly feel! When we try at something and it doesn’t work out, I guess many of us beat ourselves up over it. But sometimes the pressure comes because of someone else’s expectations. (I have to say my instructor was very nice about it, but I still felt a bit bad for him, as this isn’t good for his “pass” stats.)

This leads me to the real subject of this post. When we are grieving, sometimes we have a sense of what we should be doing to live with the loss of our loved one from our life. We might like to light candles or put up pictures or visit the grave, or we might like to keep busy and go back to work. Generally, I think deep inside we usually know what we want. But it is the reactions and responses of other people that can make it harder. They may not support what we are doing; they might seem to expect something different from us. They could be blunt about it, or we might just get a whiff in the atmosphere.

When it comes to Christmas, especially the first few Christmasses since our loss,  it is quite likely we will struggle figuring out how to manage everything, our emotions included. We miss him or her very much, and the sadness of that gap in our home and life be overwhelming. We might wonder how we’re going to manage a Christmas party or a big Christmas lunch, or we might wonder how we are going to cope with being alone.

And then there may be the family members or friends, who might expect us to take part in festivities that we have always attended. We might have people relying upon us and we don’t want to fail them.

On the other hand, we might be surprised that we do feel like celebrating. Maybe we want to try to forget our sorrows for a while. We might actually want to attend the work Christmas party, or the big family get-together, or sit cosily at home, watching Christmas TV with chocolates and a bottle of something or other at our side. The hazard here is that the moment we start enjoying ourselves, we start feeling bad, as though we are failing our loved one by being happy.

The potential feelings of failure can make Christmas – and any time in our grieving – feel quite overwhelming.

The advice I was given prior to the driving test this morning was: Relax, do the best you can. That’s all I could do.

I think that’s pretty good advice for managing Christmas too. Do what feels right to you, what brings you comfort, what helps you feel close to your loved one if that’s what you’re wishing for.


Whether you’re a believer or not, whether your Christmasses have been fun-filled or faith-based – or a mixture of both – in the past, when your life circumstances have changed so much, your outlook on this season may have changed too.

Our feelings about the season are not permanent. Each year we might experience it differently. We might struggle with loneliness, or our difficulty might be managing the expectations of others. We might wish it were soon over, or we might want to escape into the sentimentality and friendliness of the season. We might enjoy gift buying or giving, or we might be struggling to heat the house.

You are managing a new life experience and you are not a failure, and don’t let anyone make you feel like you are. Unlike the highway code and precise rules of the road, there is no rule-book for the mourner at Christmas. There is no prescribed amount of tears to cry, or prohibition on laughter. Live your experience without pressure. Don’t feel under pressure from other people.

Don’t feel like you’ve failed if it doesn’t go perfectly. Not every decision works out to be the best one. Maybe you will end up wishing you had accepted that invitation, or maybe you end up somewhere you wish you weren’t. Excuse yourself. Next time you can do it differently. Anyway, Christmas doesn’t last forever.

I wonder – what are you looking for this Christmas?

Are you looking for comfort in your loss, as you sit sadly next to the space vacated by your loved one? If so, I wish you precious moments of remembrance.

Are you looking for an easing of your heartache? I wish for you to find solace in your thoughts and by doing the little things that bring you comfort.

Are you looking for enjoyment, fun, laughter? I wish for you to be freed from any guilt or condemnation, that you can enjoy life’s pleasures in this season, despite anything that has gone before.

Are you looking for freedom from anxiety for the future? I wish for you to be able to live in the moment, to breathe deeply, to find it within yourself to set aside those cares at least for this minute.

Are you looking for solitude? If so, I wish that peace will fall upon your gently.

Are you looking for relief for your loneliness? I wish for you the companionship of friends and family, and if they are not at your side, that you will find other friends, new places to visit.

Are you eagerly looking for the Christian festivities to be over soon? I wish that you will find your own ways to pass this short season.

Are  you searching  for your loved one? I wish  that the deep yearnings of grief will not  overwhelm you, and that you will find ways to include them in your days, even though they are absent.

Is your heart’s desire to turn back the clock to a happier time? I wish that those happy memories will sustain you, until you can find other moments of happiness on the journey of life.

It is natural to end this post by wishing you a “happy Christmas”, and while I do wish for your happiness, I also do not want to be trite. I know from my own experience how difficult Christmas can be when you’re living with loss. And so, whatever your own feelings or challenges, I hope you will find ways to be kind to yourself and that you will find some peace this season, and that the best memories of your loved ones will be your companion.

As I light Christmas candles for Pax and Catherine, I will think of you, lighting candles for yours.

P.S. I haven’t mentioned anything about the theme of the “true meaning of Christmas”, faith and the birth of Jesus. That actually means a lot to me personally, and I find nothing much better during this season than Christmas carols. But there are lots of articles everywhere on those topics, and what I wanted to offer was a perspective on grief which would apply whether you’re a Christian or not. (Comments on this, and anything else, are welcome.)


A bit more reading on coping with Christmas:

Christmas perplexities if you’re living with loss

Getting ready for Christmas, when the one you love is no longer here

This next link is an article from an Australian blog. While it’s not specifically about a post-bereavement Christmas, there are some very good ideas.

Coping with Christmas

This next link is particularly for bereaved parents, but can be appropriate for all

The Compassionate Friends – Coping with Christmas


3 thoughts on “Not failing at Christmas

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