Grieving at Christmas
For lots of bereaved people, dealing with grief at Christmas can be especially difficult. The media, not to mention social media, is full of images of friends, families and loved ones sharing the festive magic – but if you’ve lost someone significant, these can serve as a bitter reminder of what you’re missing. There’s also a seemingly inescapable expectation of good cheer, at a time when celebrating is the last thing you feel like doing.
How to cope with grief at Christmas
A bereavement at any time is devastating but losing someone at Christmas is particularly tough. The first Christmas after a death is always hard, while you’re still navigating your ‘new normal’, but even many years later, the season of supposed joy and festivity can feel poignant at best.
Here are some ideas to help you get through what can be a tricky time for anyone experiencing loss.
How will you spend Christmas Day?
Especially after a recent loss, you may want to plan how you’ll spend the season, especially the day itself. Christmas tends to be a day when we re-enact traditions and rituals, and it’s up to you whether you want to continue with these in the absence of your loved one, or do something entirely different. For example, some people choose to go away for Christmas, or maybe spend the day itself volunteering.
Of course, you don’t have to “do” anything at all; try not to give into the pressure that Christmas has to be spectacular. If it’s your first after being bereaved, you may want to keep this one low-key; the thing about the season is that it comes around again, so you can always do things differently next year.
A fitting memorial
For many bereaved people, Christmas is a time when they want to remember the person who has died, but it can be hard to decide on an appropriate way to do this.
Some people like to visit a special place of remembrance such as the grave; light a candle; perhaps write a Christmas card telling your loved one your news and how you are feeling. Death ends a life, not a relationship, and it’s okay to still connect with the deceased. Some people like to think about how they can still involve their loved one in Christmas: some ideas include hanging a stocking for them, in which family members can put messages or memories, creating a photo album of snaps from previous happy Christmases, or cooking and enjoying a particular favourite food in their memory.
Keep good company
Grieving at Christmas doesn't have to be isolating. Whatever the adverts and shiny social media updates would have us believe, Christmas can be a lonely time for many, not just bereaved people.
You may like to surround yourself with others who have their own grief, or also remember your loved one. It can be an opportunity to look at photographs, share happy memories, and yes, maybe to be sad and tearful, with some support around you from people who can empathise. Importantly, make sure the people around you can be flexible and understand that whatever activities you plan, when the time comes you may feel the need to take yourself out of the social setting and have some quiet time alone – and that’s fine.
Easy to forget, looking after yourself often gets overlooked when you're dealing with grief at Christmas. This is important for anyone experiencing bereavement, at any time, but perhaps especially at Christmas, when lots of us have a tendency to over-indulge. Try to sleep well, eat well and avoid too much alcohol, which tends to provide only temporary relief. Wrap up and get outside for fresh air and exercise, if you can. And while you may not feel like partying, it’s okay to enjoy yourself; in fact having a happy Christmas may be the most fitting memorial you can give your loved one, and the best gift you can give yourself.
Grief at Christmas: We're here to help
We're always here to help. If you're struggling to come to terms with grief during Christmas and the festive period, you can contact a bereavement counsellor with our Griefchat service. We've also got lots of additional articles and information in our Guidance & Advice hub.