Surviving Christmas in the Face of Grief and Loss

As the year draws to an end, and Christmas approaches I have taken some time to reflect upon what to me was the most heartbreaking and defining period of my life.

For the first time last year, as a family we had to celebrate Christmas without my grandpa.

He was a funny, naughty and warm-hearted human being and was loved by everybody who knew him. Being such a constant  presence in my life, whom I saw (and in the last few years, cared for) every week, the loss of my grandpa was both physical and emotional.

We always knew our first Christmas without this huge and life-loving presence was going to be the hardest. The sense of loss was undeniable, unexplainable,and immeasurable.

But despite this we were all able to survive Christmas, and with an emphasis on supporting each other, acknowledging the loss, and making new memories, we incorporated some old traditions with some new.

We made a toast, we did not over commit ourselves on the day and try to make it a perfect Christmas, and though each of our experiences of the loss was different, we grew closer together as a family and were able to not only survive, but also surprisingly, enjoyed the festive season.

During times of grief and the loss of a loved one it is important to remember that every family is different, every relationship is different, and every individual’s experience or ways of coping with grief and loss are also different.

This is why during significant occasions such as Christmas or birthdays, it is important to acknowledge our own sense of loss, surround ourselves with those who we love and trust, reach out to those who we need, and give ourselves time to think and to process the grief when and where it may occur for us. Remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve.

5 Tips to Surviving Christmas while Grieving

Create a tradition around incorporating your lost loved one into your Christmas festivities:

This could mean writing them a card every Christmas, playing their favourite music, cooking one of their favorite foods for everyone to enjoy together, putting a photo, a hat, or a piece of jewellery from your loved one either discreetly in a corner or somewhere for everyone to see and enjoy (whatever feels right for you and your family), making a toast to your loved one either as an individual or as a family, or lighting a candle in honour of the happy times you shared during this time of the year.

Don’t forget the kids:

Importantly, remember to ask children or younger loved ones if and how they would like to be involved in the festivities and if they would like to remember those who have passed in their own special way.

Practice self-compassion and give yourself permission to do less:

Be kind to yourself and allow yourself the time and space to grieve during the festive season when needed, but also allow yourself to be happy. Everybody grieves differently.

Some may find it harder in the lead up to Christmas rather than on the day, others may feel like they are going through the motions and are numb to the whole experience, and some, like me may feel as if they are going through their grief journey appropriately, but then the tiniest trigger may bring back the raw and intense sense of loss and hopelessness.

This is why it is so important to be as sensitive to ourselves as we would to our loved ones around us and allow ourselves to cry or sit quietly when needed rather than ignoring our own emotional needs and being too task driven.

Acknowledge the loss:

Though it may seem obvious, sometimes it is hard to find the right timing or words to openly acknowledge the loss. Some may find that acknowledging this openly or as an announcement, may relieve some of the pressure, nervousness or pain that can occur when trying to hold it together and just get on with the day…but ignoring these feelings or the huge loss can often make the day harder to get through for yourself and for others. A toast to the individual’s memory is a lovely and easy way to do this.

Accept help from others:

Christmas can be a stressful time for even the most functional or organised of families, and this can be magnified when a family is experiencing and processing bereavement.

Accepting help from others can ease the burden, and as they say ‘a problem shared is a problem halved.’  This can not only ease the stress or pain that you are experiencing as an individual, but those who love and care for you may feel desperate to help you in some way and this gives them that opportunity.

Christmas is never the same once you lose someone close to you, but by making new traditions whilst acknowledging those we have lost, we can make the day a little easier for ourselves, and we will survive.

If you feel like you would like to talk to somebody about your experience of grief and loss, please feel free to call and we can make you an appointment with Alyce or one of our psychologists.

Alyce Mayman, Therapist

Bachelor of Psychological Science, Master of Counselling and Psychotherapy

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