Christmas is a challenging time for many of us: there’s pressure to enjoy yourself, to provide a good Christmas, to spend time with family and friends. Many of us struggle with the expectation, many also feel lonely at this time of year but grieving at Christmas adds extra weight to all of this. For those who have been bereaved, no matter whether recently or many years ago, Christmas will never be the same again. Whether you yourself are grieving at Christmas, or whether you’re supporting someone who is grieving this Christmas, this article may help you to cope with the festive season.
Most importantly, plan ahead for Christmas. Think about where you want to be, who you want to be with, whether you do indeed actually want to be with anyone else. You may feel like you want family and friends around you to support you, or you may instead prefer to keep things small and low key – either by yourself or with just your immediate family. Alternatively you may want to do something completely different – to go away on holiday, or to spend the day working or volunteering. There is no right or wrong.
Think about what you want
Similarly, think carefully through what you do and don’t want to do this Christmas, and to talk this through with your close family and friends so that they’re aware of what you want and also of how they can help you. If you’ve got children it’s important to talk about what they want as well and to try to find a solution which works for all of you. If they’re very young it might be helpful to let them know that it’s OK for them to enjoy Christmas even if you and others are sad.
Make plans just for this year
Don’t feel pressured by others’ expectations. Ignore the phrase ‘you ought to’. If you don’t feel like putting decorations up, or cooking a big Christmas dinner, or going to the party at the neighbours’, then don’t. Remember that you’re making these decisions just for this year. This year you are doing what is right for you right now. Not putting up your tree this year doesn’t mean you’re never going to do it again. It just means that you’re not doing it this year but you’ll see how you feel about doing it next year when next Christmas comes.
Ask for help
Do ask for help if you need it, and don’t be afraid to tell people specifically how they can help you. Whether you want someone to go shopping with you, to help you decorate your tree, to help with the cooking, to take your children out for an afternoon so you can wrap up their presents – your family and friends will want to help but may not know how, so giving them specific practical things to do will be useful for both of you.
To follow old traditions or create new traditions?
Christmas inevitably brings up many memories, good and bad. If the anniversary of your loved one’s death is near to Christmas, or if you had special things you always did together at Christmas, these can be particularly painful. You may want to continue with these traditions in their memory, or you may want to create new ways to remember them. You may choose to create new traditions instead. These might include:
- Buying a new decoration for your Christmas tree that reminds you of them
- Lighting a special candle during the Christmas period
- Writing a letter to them
- Looking through old photos, cards or letters
- Eating or drinking something that they liked as part of a Christmas meal
- Giving time or money to a charity, cause or project that they would have supported
- Visiting their grave or a place that was special to them
Whether you choose to do these things on your own or to share them with others depends on how you feel.
If you are supporting someone who is grieving this Christmas
Here are a few simple things you can do to help a friend or family member who is grieving this Christmas:
- Talk about the person who has died, because this will show that you remember them
- Offer practical help with things like cooking or shopping. Simple tasks can be overwhelming when you’re grieving. If you are supporting a widowed parent with young children, offer to take them shopping so that mummy or daddy has a gift from them.
- Invite the bereaved person to parties and gatherings as normal – but also assure them it’s OK if they don’t want to attend, or if they change their mind at the last minute. If they say no this year, be sure to invite them again next year.
- If you will be spending time together over Christmas, ask them whether they would like to remember the person who has died in a specific way
- Above all, talk to the bereaved person about what they want to do at Christmas, whether and how they want to celebrate – and both listen to and respect their wishes.
These articles may help those grieving at Christmas:
A first hand account of how a young widow copes with Christmas in her own way.
Click here for stories from 6 people about how they coped with being widowed at Christmas.
An article written by a therapist about approaches to coping with Christmas by two of his clients
You may also find the following organisations and charities can help:
Winchester Bereavement Support – a free and confidential listening service for bereaved adults in Winchester and the surrounding districts
Cruse Bereavement Care – a national organisation providing support to the bereaved
WAY (Widowed and Young) – an organisation for those whose partner died when they were under the age of 50
Way Up – a national support group for those who were widowed in their 50s and 60s
The Compassionate Friends – a charity which provides support after the death of a child of any age
Winston’s Wish – a national charity providing support to bereaved children and their families
You may wish to attend a formal service of remembrance at Christmastime. Many churches and crematoria host memorial services which are open to all.
If you would like to hold a special Memorial Service at Christmas to remember your loved one, please contact me to help you design a bespoke service.