How to Deal With Grief at Christmas
The first Christmas after a bereavement can be a very emotional time. Losing a loved one is always hard, but the festive season can make missing someone even tougher. Xmas is considered a time of celebration, but when you’ve lost someone you love, coping with grief at Christmas makes it a time you have to survive rather than enjoy.
You may feel like hiding away until it’s all over, but remember the anticipation of Christmas Day is often worse than the day itself. And it is possible to make this festive season meaningful, even though it might not be the Christmas you had hoped for. We’d like to share some ideas that might make Christmas grief and loss more bearable.
Plan ahead of time for the holidays
If there are things that trigger your grief during the holiday season it’s a good idea to make plans ahead of time to try and avoid them if possible. Talk your plans through with friends and family members to find ways to celebrate without causing anyone pain or distress. Of course, there are often times when the grief will surprise you, and that is totally understandable, but being prepared will help you cope with these feelings if they arise.
Facing the first Christmas after bereavement
Christmas can be a very painful time for anyone who has just lost a loved one. There will be potential trigger points everywhere, from meaningful pieces of music and personalised Christmas bereavement cards to TV advertising. The first Christmas without a loved one might be something you’re dreading, as it can so easily bring back memories of the past.
There are, however, lots of things you can do to make dealing with grief at Christmas easier. For example, why not do things differently this year? Think outside of the box and do something different. Rather than staying at home, why not go away for a few days, or stay with a friend or family member?
Don’t feel guilty about your holiday grief
Guilt is one of the main stages of the grieving process, and whether the pain is fresh or in the past, it is very common to feel guilty at this time of year.
Making time to express your feelings of grief and Christmas is important. Don’t feel guilty about wanting to talk about and cry for your lost loved one. There are people around you who will really listen without feeling the need to ‘fix’ you.
If you ignore your feelings or try to replace them with distracting activities, you may prolong your feelings of grief.
Give yourself time for reflection
Whilst many people go to a Church service at the time of year it can be helpful to pop into the local Church you know will be open and perhaps light a candle - or simply sit down and enjoy the peace and quiet for a few minutes.
Keeping a light burning in remembrance signifies that the memory of your loved one still lives on and burns bright. This could be a plain candle or one with their favourite fragrance. You could also light the candle next to a photograph or special ornament that reminds you of your loved one.
Accept that others deal with grief at Christmas differently
It’s important to understand that people deal with holiday grief in different ways. Conflict within a family can sometimes arise when we have expectations of how others should grieve. You will be coping with bereavement at Christmas in your own way, but try to be sensitive to others’ needs. Don’t be afraid to talk openly about what Christmas and grief mean for you.
Create new traditions
Long held traditions can be difficult to keep up once you’ve lost someone, so why not give them a miss in favour of some new ones? If Christmas or New Year at home feels too painful you could choose to go away, or visit other family and friends. You can always come back to your old customs when you are ready, or continue creating new traditions each year. There’s no shame in admitting that the things you used to do are too difficult.
Weather permitting, a walk around your garden, local park or woodland can do wonders for lifting the spirits. Take in some fresh air and fill your pockets with some bird seed or nuts and feed any birds looking for food at this chilly time of year.
Visiting a special place to someone that has passed away is a great way to reflect on their life. At Christmas, spending time with family is a tradition for many and a walk can bring everyone together. You could visit your loved one's favourite spot, such as a particular tree in a forest or a bench by the coast.
Sponsor a tree in their honour
Sponsoring a tree through The Woodland Trust or having a tree planted on your behalf through The National Forest in Central England is a terrific way to remember a loved one. It’s another meaningful way of coping with Christmas after bereavement. Why not visit a tree you associate with a loved one and make it your own special tree that you can take time to visit alone or with family, just like the example below:
"Taking the dogs and kids on our favourite woodland walk, scattering the ashes around the base of our 'family tree' has made remembrance a natural and happy part of our lives."
Make something special
With so much TV or Radio to watch or listen to, why not also take the time to make something? Knitting, needlepoint doing some drawing or painting can prove very satisfying. You can create something to display in your own home or room, wear yourself or give to someone close to you in the New Year.
Bereavement Christmas ornaments
Baubles are classic Christmas tree decorations that have been used for hundreds of years. There are lots of places you can buy memorial baubles and are a great way of including the memory of someone in the tradition of Christmas every year. This could be anything from a photo bauble to an angel decoration that represents your loved one. You could also make your own bauble to decorate your tree or as a Christmas sympathy gift.
A memorial blanket can be made from fabric that reminds you of a loved one who has died, such as their clothing. There are lots of talented people that sell these handmade quilts using the fabric you send to them. If a blanket isn't right for you, consider a memory teddy bear or pillow.
Don’t be afraid to talk about grief at Christmas time
People often think that we shouldn’t mention those we have lost for fear of upsetting someone, but talking about them can actually be a big help. You will have many memories you hold dear and others may also enjoy talking about them with you. Don’t be afraid to talk about your dearly departed with your friends and family this Christmas.
Visit those you have lost
While some might find it hard to visit the grave of a loved one at Christmas, you will find that graveyards and crematoriums are actually filled with people celebrating their loved ones at this time of year. You could take flowers or simply spend some time at a special spot to ease the feeling of loss. Remember you are not alone - there are many people feeling the same way as you. Getting outside for some fresh air can also do wonders when you’re feeling stuck.
Get in touch with an old friend
If we have not spoken to a relative or old friend for a while it can sometimes feel difficult to get in touch, particularly if you had a minor falling out or just feel a bit awkward if a long time has passed.
So why not make a phone call, pop round or send a letter or email. Most people love to get in touch at this time of year and with so many ways to do so these days, it could reignite an old friendship or relationship for the upcoming new year!
Practice self-care and allow yourself happy moments
Grief can be exhausting, so make sure you look after yourself physically, emotionally, and practically. If sleeping has become difficult, for example, have a guilt-free afternoon nap.
Have some quiet time to reflect on the good times you’ve shared. What did you enjoy doing together? You may find some comfort doing the same things you used to do together at this time of the year.
Being kind to yourself at Christmas is important. Self-care is paramount. Climbing into a nice hot bath and relaxing can be really nurturing, especially if you have some aromatherapy bubbles and candles.
Treasure any moments of unexpected joy and happiness you experience this Christmas. It’s especially important not to feel guilty about them. Think about how your loved one would have wanted you to carry on with your life.
Help others dealing with grief at Christmas
Looking for something different and fulfilling to do this Christmas? Why not help others by volunteering at a homeless shelter or local care home? You may find that giving something back helps distract you from your grief as you put your energy into something truly positive. There are many charities looking for volunteers to help out over the festive period.
Get support to cope with grief during the holidays
There will be times when it all feels too much. It’s important to recognise when you need support - this could be from friends or a bereavement support service.
Taking advantage of available help and advice will make it easier to deal with your holiday grief. If you need advice or want to start making arrangements for your funeral, our dedicated team offers expert guidance and support.
Watch the Christmas Memorial Event 2020
Charlton Park Crematorium held a Christmas Memorial Service this December to pay their respects to all the special people they have looked after this year.
Watch the service here.