Handling Christmas after a bereavement

Posted on December 2, 2019
Handling Christmas after a bereavement
6 min read

The festive period, full of its lights, joy and laughter, is particularly difficult when you are mourning the loss of a loved one. While everyone around you is happily wrapping presents and singing carols, you are likely finding that every little thing reminds you of them. Christmas can be one of the worst times of year for mourning, as the days get shorter and darker.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve; if there were a step-by-step guide, perhaps it would make it easier. However, everyone mourns differently, so what works for one person may not work for you. If you have others grieving amongst your family and friends, make sure to talk together so you know the best way to support each other.

Time for self-care

Right now, you may be feeling like you are the least important thing to be worrying about, but this is not true. Whatever else needs doing, it will be easier if you’re taking care of yourself as well. After all, you wouldn’t advise someone with a cold to go shovel snow, would you? It’s exactly the same principle.

Be gentle with yourself

Anyone who has experienced grief knows how draining it is, especially at a time of year when you are “meant” to be happy, so try to be kind to yourself. If you don’t feel like cooking this year that’s fine. If you don’t want to socialise, that’s fine. If you don’t feel like doing Christmas at all this year, that’s also fine! It’s okay for things to be overwhelming or upsetting, so don’t push yourself too hard. And make sure that you eat, sleep, and stay hydrated, even if you really don’t feel like it.

Do something fun for you…but allow yourself to grieve

Yes, the idea of doing something “selfish” probably seems impossible right now. But remember that your loved one would want you to take care of yourself and have a bit of fun. Perhaps watch a comedy Christmas special, or play a silly game.

Conversely, even on a good day, the reality of the situation can hit suddenly. There is no shame in feeling sad; no-one is going to expect you to be 100% happy the whole time. Wallowing however is not healthy, and will just make you feel sadder. Grieving doesn’t have to mean feeling miserable for the whole day.

Try something different

If trying to keep Christmas the same as “normal” seems too hard, then don’t! There’s no rule saying that things can’t change. It’s good to remember your lost loved one over the festive period (we have a few suggestions in the next section), but that doesn’t mean you can’t shake things up. Perhaps go out for the day, decorate differently, or even go away for a few days. There’s nothing stopping you from returning to your previous traditions when and if you feel ready.

Get some fresh air

It’s easy to cocoon ourselves indoors, but getting outside, even just for a bit, is good for both our minds and bodies. Going for a stroll around the garden or a nearby park gives you time to reflect on your loved one and your feelings, and the fresh air can help boost your mood.

Ask for support

It’s important to remember that, even if it feels like it, you are not alone. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask family, friends, or neighbours for help, whether it be with decorating, shopping, or just listening for a while. Struggling by yourself will just be upsetting for you and those who care about you. And difficult though it may be, our friends and family are not mind readers, so you need to articulate how you feel and what you need from them. Sometimes they just don’t know how to offer help, so tell them.

If you need emotional support, and you don’t feel like you have anyone to turn to, then contact a group like Cruse Bereavement Care or the Samaritans, who can offer support and advice on how to cope with loss over the festive period.

Celebrate their life

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If you feel you are able to, then it’s nice to find some way to celebrate your loved one at Christmas. If this is too hard, especially in the first year, then that’s okay. If and when you feel up to it, there are a number of different ways that you can remember someone who has passed.

Enjoy their favourite things

Our senses are closely tied to our memories, so enjoying a favourite thing of theirs can be a great way to stimulate it. Perhaps they had a favourite Christmas song or carol that you can all sing together, or you could gather the family around to watch a movie that they watched every year.

Another great way of including them is by cooking something that they loved. Perhaps a favourite meal, or a special side dish to go with Christmas dinner. Maybe it’s baking jam tarts, or mixing a particular drink. Whatever it is, it can be included and perhaps be the start of a new tradition.

Talk about them

This may not be easy, but talking about them with friends and family is a great way to remember the happy and good times. Sharing stories about the person, or looking through photographs can be incredibly cathartic. If talking out loud is still too tough, then you could always use a memory tablecloth – a plain paper tablecloth that people can write on – or have people write down their happy memories of the person on pieces of paper that can then be put into a box and read out later in the day, perhaps while enjoying their favourite tipple.

“Do” something to remember them

That may sound vague, but that’s because there’s so many things that you could do! You could light a candle, or plant something that you can visit as it grows (consider plants or trees, especially those that can stand cold weather, rather than flowers). Maybe get some help finishing that birdhouse they always intended to build, volunteer at that shelter they always talked about, or try your hand at their old guitar or knitting needles. These are things that you can enjoy all year round, and can get any younger family members involved in too.

Be careful of…

It’s easy to get caught up in our feelings and our grief, but this can lead either to poor decisions, or just to making us feel worse if we aren’t careful. We’ve talked about a few ideas of what you can do, but there are also some things you should be careful of.

Alcohol

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a drink or two over the Christmas period. However, be careful of drinking too much. It may numb the pain of loss in the short-term, but it’s only temporary and will make you feel worse in the long run.

Feeling you “have” to celebrate

It’s okay to not want to do Christmas. It’s okay to want to stay in, not cook, not decorate. Don’t let anyone force you into celebrating when you don’t feel ready or comfortable to do so. Do tell them this though – if you’re masking your feelings, then they may not realise their encouragement is upsetting you.

Becoming isolated

Conversely, you have to be careful that you don’t isolate yourself. It’s understandable that you may not want to see people, however spending the whole festive period by yourself is likely to just make you feel worse and cause you to wallow in your grief, which isn’t healthy. Make sure to see people; family and friends will understand that you’re not necessarily going to be on “top form”.

Feeling guilty

Don’t feel bad for feeling sad; that’s only natural after losing someone. Whether things get easier over time or not, you will find that you develop ways of coping with your grief. And it’s okay to tell people that you’re feeling blue. You may find that they feel similarly, but hadn’t wanted to say for fear of upsetting you.

At the same time, even while grieving, you probably won’t be feeling sad all the time. Don’t feel guilty if you find yourself having fun, or enjoying yourself. Having those moments of joy, no matter how brief, is not disrespectful and is likely to be exactly what your lost loved one would want.


Do you need some help looking after your older loved ones during the holidays? At SuperCarers, we can help you find experienced care workers in your local area to help you with personal care at home. Call us on 020 8629 1030 to find out more about home care through SuperCarers.

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