Christmas is a magical and special time of the year, but it can also be difficult, emotional, and overwhelming if you have experienced a bereavement.
The holiday period has a great emphasis on family, relationships, celebrations, and coming together, and this may heighten the emotions you are already experiencing during your grieving process.
To help you navigate this time, I have shared below some ideas to help support you. These ideas I used myself following family bereavements, and they provided comfort and peace.
I hope they may help you too.
(1) Acknowledge Your Feelings
In the period before and during Christmas, you may feel the pressure to be outwardly happy and jolly. However, it is important to acknowledge that you are grieving and allow yourself to feel the range of emotions that may present themselves, such as sadness, loneliness, worry and even joy as you remember precious times together. Try not to suppress these feelings and know they are completely natural.
(2) Take Care of Your Physical and Mental Well-being
Grief can take a toll on both your physical and mental well-being, and it is therefore important to take time to prioritise your self-care. Try to eat healthy and nutritious foods; soups and casseroles packed with vegetables are easy to prepare and can make several servings, ideal for days you may not want to cook.
Exercise regularly as this will help to reduce your cortisol levels (stress hormones) and promote a more restful night’s sleep. Walking is an ideal activity, as not only will you experience the benefits of exercising, but also those of spending time in nature.
One of the other important ways you can support your well-being is to try to get some good quality sleep, which I know is not always easy at this time. Sleep will help both your mind and body to process everything you are currently going through.
Sleep was one area that I really struggled with during my grieving process, so I created a web page with my tips to sleep well.
(3) Talk About Your Loved One
It is incredibly important to be able to talk about your loved one, as this will help to keep their memory alive and may even help you to connect with others who are grieving. Share stories and memories of your loved one with family and friends, or even join a grief support group. Talking about the person you miss can be a real comfort.
(4) Create A New Tradition
Christmas is full of traditions, and each family will have their own unique ones.
If traditional Christmas activities are too painful, you could create a new one to include your loved one.
For example, during the first Christmas without my brother, we selected a Christmas decoration for the tree for him. Our tree is decorated in very traditional red and gold decorations, so we purchased a silver star for him, so it would stand out from the other baubles. Each year we hang his star to include him in our Christmas and now that some time has passed, we can now chat and reminiscence about funny Christmas memories with him.
If the thought of Christmas Day, especially your usual Christmas meal feels challenging, instead of cooking at home you may prefer to eat out, volunteer, or spend time at another family member’s house if possible. Altering the usual traditions can be very supportive.
Finally, explore if there are any local events where bereaved families can come together. Being amongst people who understand the pain you are experiencing is helpful. Some groups may have a special church service where you light a candle for your loved one, or some may invite you to a non-religious event where you can hang a tag on a tree in their memory. Events like this can really help during the grieving process.
(5) Reach Out for Support
If you are feeling overwhelmed, do not hesitate to reach out for help from friends, family, your GP, counsellor or work colleagues.
It is okay to reach out for help and to share your feelings during this time.
Please do not feel you have to do this alone.
Other ideas to support you through Christmas include:
- Set realistic expectations. Don’t expect yourself to feel “normal” during the holidays. It’s okay to say ‘no’ to some social events, or to leave early if you are finding it too difficult.
- Communicate with your loved ones. Let your family and friends know how you’re feeling and what you need from them.
- Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself. It’s important to take care of your well-being during this difficult time.
- Be patient with yourself and allow extra time to complete activities that you may normally find easy.
- Don’t feel guilty if you laugh or enjoy some of the holiday. Remember that your loved one would want you to be happy, and joy is an important emotion just as sadness is.
- Cherish your memories. They are yours to keep for always.
Grief is a very individual journey, and we all experience it in our own ways. Be kind, gentle, and patient with yourself as you navigate the holidays, and allow yourself to grieve in your own unique way.