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Coping with Grief
at Christmas


Facing Christmas after losing a loved one is incredibly difficult.  Often people get swept up in the rush to plan, organise and celebrate what is traditionally a time for family and friends to spend together.  When someone is missing, it can leave a cavernous gap that is almost impossible to fill.  


Shops start to get decorations and gifting ideas in from August and play Christmas themed songs from October; so it isn’t just the day itself, not even just the month of December, it is many weeks where Christmas is thrust into your face and it can feel so hard to avoid.

Nobody can take away the pain of grief, it is the price we pay for loving somebody dear to us, but this article aims to help you find ways to cope in the best way you can:

Lessen the pressure - Christmas always brings pressure; grieving not only affects our energy levels and our tolerance for other people but also how many tasks we can manage in any one go.  Think about how much you can do and more importantly how much you want to do.  Whilst doing this, try and cut out the words ‘should’ and ‘ought’ from your vocabulary - they put internal pressure on yourself that will mean you end up doing things you don’t really want to.  Plan ahead and decide what is important to you.  If you don’t feel you can send Christmas cards this year, don’t send them. 

Give yourself permission to do things differently.

Get some back-up - if you can, share your thoughts and how you feel with close family/friends.  If people know where you are emotionally, they can be better equipped to look out for you.  If shopping feels like it will be difficult, go with a trusted person who can take care of you if things get too much.  If it feels overwhelming to be in shops or crowds, rely on the internet to purchase what you need.  If you don’t feel you have the capacity to choose presents, wrap them, deliver/post them - give yourself permission to pare this right back this year.  It’s okay not to be feeling cheerful and not to face everyone with a bright smile or a festive greeting. 

Communicating to others about what you do/don’t need is so important - people often feel awkward and unsure when faced with a grieving person.  Sadly a lot of the time rather than say or do the wrong thing, people choose to say/do nothing which can mean you are left feeling unthought of and lonely, when really it’s because people mistakenly think you want to be left alone or are just unsure how to approach you.  

If you’re reading this as someone supporting a bereaved person, be brave and sensitively talk to them about what they do/don’t want to do.  Sometimes, it might need you to start this conversation.

Rethink your traditions - most people have long-standing traditions in the run-up to and on Christmas Day.  Putting up decorations is undeniably tough because memories of ornaments or trinkets evoke memories - which whilst often lovely can be painful too.  If you still want to decorate and/or put a tree up, maybe doing it alone won’t be a good idea - so who could help you?  

Think about Christmas dinner, present opening, games - you don’t need to stick to your usual plans.  Maybe this is a good time to switch things up and do something different.  Equally, for some people keeping traditions that were greatly loved by the person may bring comfort and a sense of closeness.  It will be different for everyone so listen to what your own instincts are telling you.

Be kind to yourself - it is likely that you will be taken off guard when you least expect it.  Spotting what would be the perfect gift for that special someone, a special song suddenly coming onto the radio or in a shop, receiving Christmas cards with/without your loved ones name on it - these are all things that can trigger our grief.  

Self-compassion is really important.  It’s okay to let the tears fall - this is just you feeling and showing your loss.  Equally if you suddenly notice yourself smiling or laughing in a care-free way, allow yourself to enjoy these moments of freedom from your grief.  It doesn’t mean you are disrespectful or are ‘over’ the loss of your loved one.  You are still allowed to feel happy and to have fun.  This is especially true for grieving children.

In summary, grief is a unique experience for everyone and Christmas time can add an extra level of strain.  Take your time to work out what you need and bring trusted people closer towards you to help take the load off. 

If you find things becoming unbearable or that you can’t cope any more and there is no-one you can talk to close by, please don’t be alone with difficult thoughts.  Reach out to one of these well established, responsive organisations open 365 days a year:  

  • Shout - Text the word ‘shout’ to 85258, 24x7

  • The Samaritans - call 116123, 24x7

  • Silverline - for people aged 55 years+, call 0800-4708090, 24x7

  • Papyrus - for people aged 35 years and under, call 0800-0684141, 9am-midnight daily

  • CALM - call 0800-585858, 5pm-midnight daily

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