Coping With The Christmas Season When You Are Bereaved.
It’s that time of year again with panto’s and festivities in full swing and whilst many people around you are excited with the cheer and celebrations that Christmas brings, if you are bereaved, planning normal Christmas things doesn’t feel natural and the expectations of the season can be daunting. The thought of going shopping, hearing carols and seeing others buying gifts can be overwhelming, and the decorations and sentimentally laden television adverts (of the ‘perfect’ family, which by the way doesn’t exist, well I don’t think it does) can be reminders of your sadness.
You may receive invitations to social gatherings that you wonder how you can brave the event on your own, or you may not receive the invitations that you once did and this can be hurtful not to be included. Between memories of Christmases past, and the expectations to act that you are ok, it isn’t any wonder that Christmas after losing someone you love, is very often an experience that you would rather forget.
Whether the missing loved one is a spouse, partner, parent, grandparent, sibling, child or friend, it’s normal to worry how you will handle that first Christmas season (or even the second, third or more). You may even think you’d rather sleep through the whole of December and wake to the dawning of a New Year. Those feelings and fears represent a normal, healthy range of emotions about painful loss and our society’s expectations and limited ability to talk openly and honestly about grief.
So How Can I Get Through Christmas When I Have Such A Huge Hole In My Life?
Some Useful Things To Remember:
There is no rule which says you have to behave in a certain way at this time of year in order to make others more comfortable. However, if you can find it within yourself to acknowledge the Christmas season, (even just a little), perhaps it may help you to step into a new year ahead.
Christmas Is Just A Day. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Christmas is one day and often the build up and pressure is from commercial motives. Keep it in perspective and do not let it dominate your life.
You Are Not Alone. It can seem as though everyone is celebrating and excited about Christmas! This isn’t true. Scratch the surface and you will find that many people have individual reasons for dreading Christmas. There are also many people (not just those from other faith groups) who choose not celebrate it. Don’t feel that you are the odd one out or a bah humbug!
You Will Survive. There are many strategies for surviving Christmas and the season will give way to a hopeful New Year and spring time. It has been proven that the thoughts we think and the ways we react can have a positive or negative effect on our psychological and physical health. It is challenging, (I know this from personal experience) but with that in mind, try to focus on what lies ahead and not what could have been or dwell on the past
Deck The Halls. Be prepared to feel upset or cry if you do decide to get out the decorations. This is natural and normal especially if it is your first season bereaved. Perhaps think of where differently to put the decorations and perhaps even make a little special display of a favourite photo of your loved together with some favourite decorations
Season’s Greetings. Be prepared for cards made out to the two of you, or to include your loved one’s name from people who may not have heard your news. Consider how you will respond and if necessary ask a friend or relative to deal with any replies for you.
It’s A Time To Be Jolly ? Those who are grieving often feel bad for not feeling good at Christmas, or if they do manage to have a good time, they feel guilty for laughing or feeling joy when they think they should still be in mourning. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle but don’t pretend that nothing has changed – it would be false to pretend that there isn’t a hole in your family or life.
So How Can I Get Through Christmas When I Have Such A Huge Hole In My Life?
Some Useful Things To Think About Doing
Take Things Slowly And At Your Own Pace. You don’t owe it to anyone to fake cheerfulness if you’re not ready for it. You may get invitations from well meaning people to spend time with them because they hate the idea of you being alone. It’s important to remember that you’re allowed to be happy, you’re allowed to be sad, you’re allowed to whatever you need. It’s OK to be selfish with your own needs at this time, and it’s important to be gentle with yourself. It’s OK to turn down certain invitations to give yourself space, but it’s also OK to let people know that you need extra support to. Only accept if it’s what you want and perhaps do think to yourself how nice it may be to feel even a little joy, or smile even just once
Make A Special Memory Of Your Loved One. This could be something you create yourself, such as writing a poem or letter, or it could simply be a drink to toast their memory. Or you could light a candle each day for a few minutes of recognition and remembrance.
Volunteer. Make someone else’s Christmas. Many groups and charities put on special lunches for the homeless and those who would otherwise be alone at Christmas. They are always in need of volunteers and it is a great way to get out and meet new people. You could help to fill the huge hole in someone else’s life this Christmas perhaps?
You May Want To Buy A New Decoration This Year To hang on the tree that will be especially for your loved one who has died. Perhaps you can have it engraved with a special message or their name.
Create New Beauty. You could consider planting a tree, shrub or flower in their memory?
Make A Christmas Wreath. Create in Holly and berries perhaps in the shape of your loved one’s initial you could place it on their grave, or somewhere that was special to them.
Shop Online. You don’t need to put yourself through the ordeal of facing crowds of people or choirs in the High Street. Most stores and supermarkets have online websites with straightforward instructions on how to use them and if you need help to navigate their systems, just ask, people really do want to help you
Traditions. Christmas is a very traditional time of year and it could be that you and your loved one had favourite traditions you enjoyed doing. You may well want to maintain those traditions, which after all have held so many special memories for you, or it could be that you are open to experiencing new things that you may not have considered before. Do whatever feels right for you.
It’s OK To Not Send Cards If it’s your first Christmas bereaved, you may want to contact everyone a while before to explain that you won’t be sending Christmas cards as it is too hard to miss out your loved one’s name. But you can still ask that they still send cards as you would like to hear from them.
Discover Hidden Talents! If you have the energy, make gifts of cakes, sweets, pickles or homemade wine, knit, sew and paint pictures or whatever your talents lead you to do. People will appreciate the effort more than an expensive gift and who knows you might discover a new pastime that gives you pleasure
Spoil Yourself Spend time doing what you like, read a book, watch films, have a long lovely bubble bath, do whatever it is that helps you relax.
Furniture Some people find it a great comfort to keep a room the same, or keep how furniture was positioned exactly the same as a way of keeping their loved ones close. It could be, however, that you decide that you would prefer to change furniture, or a room around, helping perhaps to reduce “absence” reminders. Do what feels right for you.
Avoid Sugar Highs And Lows Sugar can make things taste nice but the bad news is it naturally induces emotional lows. Also, steer clear of overeating and under-sleeping. Try to eat well-balanced diets and some mood enhancing natural foods such as oats which can be calming, turkey, chicken & dark chocolate which are the basis for producing serotonin – the feel good chemical!
Limit Your Intake of Caffeine and Alcohol They are stimulants and can create highs and lows of your moods. Camomile Tea is good for calming when you feel anxious
Accept Any Offers Of Help And don’t feel like a failure for doing so.
Find A friend Try to find friends to spend time with, where you can really be safe and you can all cry or laugh or do whatever feels right.
Consult Those Closest To You If you have children talk to them in advance about what they want to do and try and balance your needs with theirs. Remember that people express grief in different ways. They may be excited about Christmas when you are not or vice versa. This doesn’t mean that they are not feeling their loss; just they are coping with it differently
One Final Thing Ask yourself …’’ What would my loved one want me to do this Christmas?’’.. If you feel a sense of guilt at the thought of enjoying even a small part of the season, give yourself permission on their behalf. It’s what they would want.
Christmas can be a highly emotional time of year with poignant memories and constant reminders of happy couples and families.
Remember Be Kind To Yourself – you only have to get through today – one day at a time.
If you are struggling with the death of someone, whether recent or not, please don’t and know that you are not on your own, I’m here to support you. For available appts. email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or text/phone on 07974 080249.
Child Death Helpline 0800 282986 www.childdeathhelpline.org.uk Cruse Hastings and Rother 01323 642942 email@example.com www.cruseeastsussex.org.uk Samaritans Tel. 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org www.samaritans.com
St Michael’s Hospice Bereavement Service 01424 456361 or email email@example.com www.stmichaelshospice.com