Christmas can be a stressful period even at the best of times but coping with a loss at this time of year can really test the strongest of people. The festive season can be one of the most difficult times of the year for those grieving.
The Compassionate Friends (TCF) is a charitable organisation of bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents dedicated to the support and care of other similarly bereaved family members who have suffered the death of a child or children of any age and from any cause.
TCF suggests that Christmas cannot be the same as it was because our family is not the same – not complete – and offer advice on their website about grief and bereavement of a child. They also have more information specifically on coping at Christmas and a leaflet available to download.
Enter into this season in a state of mind of “both and” rather than “either or.” Sorrow does not exclude all joy, and celebration does not eliminate all sorrow. Be present to the moments of enjoyment, and at the same time, respect your feelings of loss.
Sights, Sounds, and Scents
Most who grieve prepare themselves emotionally for those significant moments during the holidays, such as sitting down for a holiday meal and attending parties; yet, some triggering experiences can occur when you least expect it. This is perfectly normal and doesn’t mean that you’re going backward in your grief. Value these moments as important connections to the one who has died.
The transition back into your work setting and your social groups after a loss can create a strain because you may have to act better than you feel in order to appear socially appropriate. This social splitting can be exhausting.
This type of fatigue is normal. Monitor your energy, and be willing to moderate your social engagements, if needed. To recharge yourself from the drain of social splitting, spend ample time with those with whom you can fully be yourself and who will support you without judgment.
Approach and Avoid
Our most basic nature is to approach pleasure and avoid pain. Our more evolved nature can approach pain if we know there is an ultimate benefit in doing so. Our natural resistance to the pain of grief can create more pain.
Be intentional about scheduling time during this hectic season to approach your pain. Create rituals that represent the unique relationship you had to the one who died, such as listening to his or her favourite music or reading a favourite poem.
Seek Healthy Distractions
In a season fraught with overindulgences, be aware of the risk of numbing the feelings of loss through unhealthy escape behaviours. Also, know that it’s not possible to stay in the emotional intensity of grief without some relief, so give yourself permission to engage in healthy distractions.
Reach out to a trusted friend if you’re concerned about harmful escape behaviours during the holidays. Ask if you can be accountable to them for these behaviours and if they will participate with you in healthier activities that provide you with some respite from your grief.
Tell Your Story
Grief is an ongoing narrative of love, not an emotional finish line to be crossed. Stories can help to stay connected to those who have died and help to create meaning about what has been experienced. Finding a place for that story to be received is an important part of the grief journey.
Tell the story of your loved one as it relates to the holiday season to someone who listens well. Or spend some time writing specific memories related to your loved one and the holidays.
Acknowledge Someone Else’s Loss
Those who grieve want their loss and their loved one remembered, so consider making contact with someone who is grieving, as well. It doesn’t matter how long ago that loss may have been. Offer the compassion to others you desire for yourself.
Let self-compassion replace any self-criticism as you do your best to balance holiday enjoyment with your grief. Be forgiving of well-meaning others who may try to help you with your grief by “cheering you up”.
Remember always, you grieve because you loved. May you have peace and light as you embrace your story of love and loss this holiday season.
Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice offers families end-of-life and post-death support for up to three years after bereavement. We host an annual Memory Day for bereaved families in September to remember those who have died as well as running the Butterfly Group which allows time for adults and children to meet together, and to participate in memory making activities. To find out more about any of these events please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Noah’s Ark is also involved in the Supporting Young People Facing Bereavement study days providing valuable guidance to teaching staff. To read more about our work in this area, see our recent article Teachers go back to school to learn about loss.