Coping with loss at Christmas

By planetm | December 2, 2021

Grief expert Lianna Champ shares her advice this Christmas season for those who have lost a loved one.

Christmas can feel totally daunting when you are grieving the loss of a loved one. With the added burden of the pandemic and uncertainty for the future, the sadness can feel overwhelming. There is no right or wrong way to navigate the hurdles that Christmas brings.

We must find what works for us, sometimes even having to force ourselves to function. We have a duty to those we love, and to those still in our lives, to carry on, especially if we have children. But equally, we have to communicate when we are struggling so we can have our ‘grief’ time.

Not really knowing how to navigate that first Christmas following a loss can make the festive season seem just too much. Bereavement is the ultimate experience which forces major change in our lives, so it is vital that we allow ourselves to feel the pain of our grief, to wallow in it and come thorough the other side.

This is how we heal – by recognising and experiencing our emotions, whether good, bad, happy or sad.

Remembering them

Always do something to remember the person you have lost so you can give their spirit an energy and even though, in remembering, you may feel the anguish of their absence, our sadness is a part of our grief that we need to recognise and respect.

Have a chat with family members about what you would like to do. Share your ideas and see what comes up. It may become a Christmas ritual for each year going forwards.

Consider making Christmas Eve a special time where you each allow one another the opportunity to tell your own story about your relationship with the person who has died. Be mindful of not interrupting when someone is speaking.

There is something quite lovely about hearing how unique each of our relationships are, helping us to identify and share those special things that are ours alone with that one person we have lost. So many different versions of them, but all fundamentally based on the same values and character. Allow your tears to flow and allow your laughter to ring out.

Sharing our memories provides a link to those we have lost. Yes, there will be tears and longing, but we have to embrace the abundance of memories that have been made together.

When someone we love dies, our physical relationship with them ends on the day of the funeral but our emotional relationships lasts until we die. And this is why our memories – and sharing those memories with each other – is such an important part of healing.

Embracing the future

Try creating some new traditions. Buy a lovely Christmas card for your loved one, write a special message inside and hang it on the tree. By doing things differently, we can make ourselves feel different. Old rituals and routines can be hard to let go of and maybe we can feel that this will take us further away from our loved one, but we have to find ways to move forward and yet still keep them close.

Talk with your family about how each of you may feel on the run up to Christmas and also on the day itself so that you can each accept whatever feelings come up. If your sadness prevents you from being able to share all of the joy that person brought to your life, the legacy of love becomes lost, not only to others, but to you too. Each year, I buy an orchid for my mum who passed away in 2011. Each time I feed and nurture my orchids, I am with my mum.

Your Christmas survival guide:

  • As the day approaches, don’t isolate yourself. Be with the people you love and feel comfortable with, even if you want to hide under the covers.

  • Accept that it may be a challenge for you.
  • Make it OK not to be OK and if you feel yourself folding, let it be OK to have some time on your own.
  • Be wary of short term relievers, such as alcohol and junk food.
  • Don’t berate yourself when you have your happy moments (which you will) – this is perfectly healthy and normal.
  • Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and make contact with your family/siblings/whoever else was special in the life of the person you have lost.
  • Sharing our memories provides a link to those we have lost. Yes there may be tears and sadness but we have to embrace the lifetime of memories we have made together. By reminiscing you are showing how important that person was, and still is, in your life.
  • Light a candle or cook their favourite dishes.
  • Use the Christmas tree to hang a special memento, photos and messages to them.
  • Buy yourself a special gift from your loved one to cherish.
  • Pour a glass of their tipple and take turns to share your favourite memories together.
  • Self care can be paramount. Climb into a nice hot bath and relax – a hot bath is really nurturing, especially with some aromatherapy bubbles and candles.

Discover more

This article first appeared in issue 14 of Planet Mindful magazine. Want to live more mindfully? Check out more mindfulness techniques here.

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