Facing Christmas following the loss of a loved one is always hard. With so much emotion, tradition and anticipation part and parcel of the festive package, it’s no wonder that it can feel like such a painful time.
This year, with comforting hugs and hand-holding out of bounds, for many people it will feel more lonely than ever. To help you navigate the most difficult time of year, we asked Jo Williams, head of counselling at GriefChat, for her advice on how to cope at Christmas.
Be prepared for the build-up
Christmas may just be one day of the year but, when you’re grieving, emotions can be easily upset by the buzz around it, which begins weeks before. “Thinking about it is almost as bad as the day itself,” says Jo. “Try to limit exposure to the media and other things that may make you feel upset, so you can resist other people’s ideas of what Christmas should be. Some people tell us they found the build-up worse than the day itself.”
Do things differently
Your first Christmas after loss is not going to be the same as it used to be, and it can be helpful for some to do things a little differently. “Changing your plans – which you may have to this year anyway – can take the spotlight off that extra chair at the table,” says Jo.
Photo: Kristina Tripkovic
Talk about your loss
Talk about your loved one and celebrate their memory. “Some people find it helpful to have a physical reminder, such as lighting a memory candle, hanging a special Christmas tree decoration, or keeping a treasured photo close at hand.” says Jo. Writing a card to the person you’ve lost can help make it feel that they are part of things.
Give your day some structure
It can be all-too-easy to just wish the day away, but building in some routine will help you through it. “Have one or two people you know you can call, and plan to be on the phone at a certain time each day or go for a walk at a set time,” says Jo. Plan your meals, your TV watching and when you’re going to go out. When life feels uncertain, structure can give you the scaffolding to get you through.
Let yourself laugh
Don’t feel guilty if you find yourself feeling happy. “It’s important to still find moments of happiness,” says Jo. “Inject some fun in the day, by sharing old photos and remembering the funny traditions or food your loved one enjoyed. Both laughter and sadness are part of the grieving process, so don’t put pressure on yourself to be either jolly or sad. Your feelings will change naturally, so just allow that process to happen.”
Don’t forget the children
“Children can grieve in a different way to adults. They often seem to be coping well, but Christmas is when they may really feel a loss,” says Jo. “It’s fine to talk about the person who has gone, so encourage them to share their memories, do a drawing of them or write a letter.”
Many adults don’t want to be upset in front of youngsters, but actually it’s important to show them that it is ok to be sad.
Photo: Anthony Tran
Look after yourself
Turning too much to boozy drinks or chocolate may just make you feel worse. Instead try and get out for fresh air, and think about what else will make you feel better.
Choose company wisely. Jo says: “This isn’t the year to feel obligated to spend time with someone who makes you stressed. You have a special pass to do what you need to do for yourself, instead of trying to please others.”
Photo: Thom Holmes
However you choose to spend your Christmas in this most extraordinary of years, everyone at Angel & Dove wishes you a peaceful time to treasure and remember the people you love.
Additional supportIf you need extra support, GriefChat can help. To access the service, simply head over to our GriefChat page where you can use the chat box at the bottom of the page. The service is free of charge and operates from 9am to 9pm Monday to Friday and by email outside of these hours.