Fairy lights are twinkling, corks are popping and Christmas songs are playing everywhere you turn… but some of us, it’s a real kick in the guts. For those dealing with grief, Christmas can be a really difficult time.
If the thought of it all is just too much, then help is at hand. We’ve teamed up with Cruse Bereavement Care – the leading national charity for bereaved people in the UK – to share advice on managing grief over the Christmas period…
Make Your Festive Plans In Advance
Rather than avoiding all thoughts of the festive period, think ahead and decide how you want to acknowledge it this year. If you’ve lost an immediate family member, it can help to start new traditions. For example, change up when and how you decorate your house, cook a buffet-style Christmas dinner rather than setting a full table, celebrate Christmas in a different place or donate to charity rather than sending gifts and cards. Lisa, a mother of two who lost her husband Graham six months before Christmas, has stopped sending Christmas cards after he passed away. “Writing just our three names without Graham’s was too heartbreaking. Instead I make donations to charity,” she explains.
Let family and friends know whether you’d like them to talk about your lost loved one, or whether you’re not ready to do this yet. You might find it helps to hear their name, or you might find it easier to distract yourself and talk about other things.
Remember: Everyone Mourns Differently
“Grief is a very personal journey,” points out Suzanne Quinn, a Regional Training Manager at Cruise. “No one way is correct, it’s only right for that bereaved individual,” she explains, adding that tensions can arise within the family when surviving members process their grief at different speeds – with some reaching the acceptance stage sooner than others.
“One person may feel comfortable doing something that reminds them of the deceased person, another may not feel ready,” she says. “It’s always best to try and discuss things openly to avoid any issues.”
Find Your Own Way To Remember Your Loved One
You might find it helps to find a way of including the person you’ve lost in your festivities – such as putting up photos or visiting their grave – and know that it’s ok to have a good cry together as a family. Lisa suggests buying a special Christmas bauble with the person’s name on it for your tree.
If it’s a parent who has died, it might help young children to write a letter or card to their lost loved one and put it in a memory box or on the mantelpiece. “Do anything the children feel comfortable with, in order to keep the person who died as part of your family,” advises Lisa.
On a Similar Note
Look After Yourself
Christmas can feel overwhelming at times whatever your circumstances, but it’s particularly important to be aware of this and look after yourself if you’re grieving. Your energy levels are likely to be lower during grief, so think about reducing your social activities this season and make sure you sleep, eat and exercise regularly. Try to avoid drinking too much – it might numb your pain in the moment but will leave you feeling worse in the long run.
It’s okay if your emotions take over and you find yourself sobbing in public. Be kind to yourself and try to keep enough time free for you to be alone to rest – remember, it’s alright to say no to invitations that may leave you feeling exhausted and sad.
Look After Those Around You, Too
If you’re a parent or primary care giver, you might be feeling burdened with the responsibility of making Christmas special – particularly for younger children – but try not to put too much pressure solely on yourself to make it magical. Is there a friend or relative you can call upon for help with present buying, decorating or cooking?
It’s also important to know what to do if your grief is one step removed, for example if you’re spending Christmas with an in-law who has lost their partner, or a child who has recently experienced the death of a close friend. If you’re spending Christmas with someone who is usually alone, or perhaps isn’t used to talking about their feelings, try to be sensitive and look out for subtle signs or hints of what makes them happy. Ask if they want to talk about what they’re going through – and be prepared to be a sounding board if they do – but respect their decision if they don’t. Suss out whether they’re happier being kept busy by helping with preparations, or whether they need more downtime and a quiet place to sit and think. Even if they don’t show it, chances are they’ll be thankful to have you close by.
If you’re struggling with grief this Christmas you can speak to someone at Cruise Bereavement Care on 0808 808 1677. The helpline is open Monday-Friday 9.30am – 5pm with extended hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, until 8pm.