Bereavement support during the festive period

Blog written by Ella Williams, Counselling Services Lead. 

The first Christmas after a close family member has died can be very difficult. Everyone seems to be celebrating, preparations for Christmas seem to go on forever and are everywhere in shops, on TV, in magazines and on the internet.

Many people feel they just want to cancel Christmas which is usually a time to be with family but will not be the same as someone will be missing. There are lots of decisions to make the first Christmas without the loved one: do we decorate the tree, send cards, give presents, attend a place of worship, join in the festive meal, go to a family party? And for many people the run up to Christmas can be more difficult than the actual day.

Below are some ideas which might help and support people as Christmas approaches.

Don’t allow other people to dictate to you how you should get through this difficult time of year. Don’t feel you have to go to a party or festivities with friends or extended family if you can’t cope with them.

Sometimes we don’t know what we will feel like doing until the last minute. Don’t feel you have to have a plan. Tell people you will decide on the day, and you will come if you feel up to it but may well not be able to.

Let close friends and family know that you are struggling and need to be able to talk about your loved one at this important family time.

Tell people that you need to have your loved one acknowledged by others at Christmas, to see their name in a Christmas card or to remember them with a toast during the Christmas meal might mean a lot, but many people would be scared of doing this unless you tell them.

Within the family try to talk to each other about how you are feeling, or what you all might want to do.

Thinking and talking together can help us to prepare ourselves for Christmas, and sometimes when these plans do go right, the day can bring surprising comfort to us.

If you have young children in the family be aware that they might wish for Christmas to carry on as before and although this can be painful, the normality of Christmas celebrations might also be a comfort.

For people who have no children and have lost their partner, Christmas can be especially painful, it can be difficult being with other families at Christmas, and yet the alternative of being alone can be equally hard to bear.

Some people don’t send cards the first Christmas after losing their partner, others like to include their loved one’s name and are touched if they receive cards with a sentiment about the loved one.

Don’t put too much stress on yourself. If there are difficult relations who expect to visit or for you to visit them, just let them know you can’t do it this year if it’s going to make you feel bad or introduce a time limit; “We’ll come over for a quick drink but will only stay an hour.”

Develop a Christmas ritual, for example attend a candle lighting service with other bereaved people, spend time at a special memorial place on your own or with others.

Spend time with people who understand and avoid those who don’t.

On the day itself, make time for you, to escape if things are too much – a walk outside can really help ease tensions.

If you can’t cope with the idea of Christmas, do something completely different but be aware, sometimes being away from supportive friends or family can be more difficult and the jollity of strangers may be painful.

Volunteer for a charity helping the homeless or elderly over Christmas. This can be a distraction and you feel you are doing something helpful too.

Try to take some general exercise every day as this helps boost much-needed endorphins.

New Year celebrations can also be difficult as it can feel like we are moving “further away” from our loved one and wishes of a “Happy New Year” can intensify yearning and grief.  Acknowledging these feelings to yourself and others close to you, and perhaps having a plan for New Year’s Eve, whether being alone or with close, understanding friends who will allow you to be yourself at this poignant time of year.

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