The hoopla of the Christmas season has arrived in full force now. If you are someone who is eagerly looking forward to the coming month and Christmas itself, you might not relate with the following. But for many people who are grieving – particularly in the early years following their bereavement – Christmas is something they dread.
Even if we’re looking forward to Christmas, the fact that the person we would like to enjoy it with isn’t here is bound to cast some shadows.
There’s all the inescapable publicity around Christmas. The sentimental and ‘feel good’ adverts and programmes on TV. The glitter in the shops. None of these might fit our mood.
There are all the memories we carry of Christmases past, times that we did share with our loved ones. The little traditions of drinks or meals or gifts or tree-dressing that are just not ever going to be the same for us again.
There are all the social dilemmas. Do we accept the invitations for meals, for parties, for visits? Do we invite those who are expecting our hospitality?
There are the family elements. Gift-giving, celebrations, gatherings, meals to cook. If we have children or other dependents, they could be relying on us to bring the festivities into their lives. We might have some obligations to ‘be there’ for others, no matter how we ourselves feel.
If we are churchgoers or usually enjoy going to a carol concert, we might wonder how we will feel in that atmosphere of celebration. Will we be able to join in a full voiced throttle of “Come all ye faithful” when perhaps our faith has been greatly shaken by our bereavement? What emotions will “Angels we have heard on high” evoke? Then again, we might find comfort in the atmosphere of the concert or service.
There is much focus at Christmas on children and families. If we are a bereaved parent or our family is estranged, the pain we feel at this time can be particularly acute.
And then there is the issue of loneliness. We know other people are living their lives contentedly alongside those they love. But someone central is absent from our own life, and of course we miss them. If we are living alone – particularly if this is the first time – it can be so hard to return home each day to an empty house. People can get so busy at Christmas. We could even be more alone on these days than at other times of the year.
And finally, the New Year beckons. It’s looming around the corner. What will it be like to start a new year without our loved one’s presence?
Tips for surviving the Christmas season
Living with loss requires some adjustments. Managing Christmas and all that surrounds it is part of this. ‘Managing’ involves taking care of ourselves in what might be a difficult time, but also being mindful of others who are relying on us.
Here’s some of what you might like to consider:
Plan ahead. Christmas comes on 25th December, and there’s no escaping. As much as you might wish to avoid the day, it will arrive – and it will arrive with fanfare. It is generally better to have some idea in advance of how you want to pass the time.
Be kind to yourself. This occasion will be different to what it used to be. Consider what you can cope with. You don’t have to fulfil every expectation you have of yourself, nor do you need to accept every invitation.
It is up to you whether in to include your loved one in the “conversation.” Let the people around you know if you are comfortable talking about him or her.
Allow yourself time to grieve. You have lost someone who is important to you and your life has changed. You may have a partner or other family members to take care of during the holidays, but try to make moments for yourself. Take some comfort in remembering the happy moments you shared together with your loved one. Celebrate their life.
If you shared some traditions together with your loved one, you might want to find ways to continue. For instance, drinking hot chocolate on Christmas morning, taking a stroll in the park on New Year’s Day come rain, snow or shine, having a birthday breakfast in bed, watching a particular television programme, going to a religious service, and so on.
On the other hand, you should never feel that you have to continue something that is no longer bringing you comfort, and sometimes it can be better to find new ways to mark the day. Some people like to visit their loved one’s grave, or light candles, or give a toast to him or her at a family meal, or even volunteer at a charity event or go away for a few days.
Many churches, hospices and support groups hold special memorial services around this time. You might want to participate and be comforted in the company of others who, like you, are grieving.
If your faith is a comfort to you, participate in Christmas (or other religious) services if you wish, but be prepared for your emotions. It’s hard to know what might get to you. Singing about angels in heaven has sometimes sent me into floods of tears as I think about my angels in heaven.
You might like to find practical ways of celebrating the memory of your loved one. For instance, a gift to charity in their name, and/or a new ornament on the tree in their memory.
Avoid trying to drown your sorrows in drink or other substances. Besides being unhealthy physically, your emotions could be made worse, and you could even find yourself losing control.
Avoid what gets you down! If you are feeling smothered by sentimental Christmas ads and TV programmes, switch off the TV. If you can’t bear the loud rush of the shops, try shopping online.
If you are going through particularly difficult moments, if you are overwhelmed and feel unable to cope, seek for help. A friend or family member may be able to offer a listening ear. In a crisis you can call the Samaritans on their 24/7 helpline on 116 123 (free call).
Finally, remember that Christmas itself is just one day. The whole of life is many days, and fortunately, most days are not quite as painful.
More resources for coping with Christmas
Here are some links that you might find helpful. I will be posting more links and resources in the coming weeks.
Excellent suggestions, particularly for bereaved parents, but could be appropriate for anyone. Links to further reading.
Brief and helpful suggestions, and information about their helpline which is open over Christmas
It’s important not to stress out about how we manage Christmas or feel a failure if we don’t manage to do or behave like we think we ‘should’. That’s what this post is about. (An earlier post from this blog)
(Your suggestions for other links and resources are welcome.)
Cruse Bereavement Care provides great support