When someone you care about has died, how to deal with all the firsts is daunting and high on that list of firsts is Christmas. People often think of Christmas as a time for families, friends, celebrations and traditions. How can it ever be the same when someone you care about has died? And it’s not just the first Christmas that people find difficult. How to celebrate Christmas brings up many questions. Here are a few things that may help you cope this Christmas.
There is no right or wrong way
This is true of how you grieve and of how you choose to mark anniversaries such as Christmas. How people experience loss is unique to them, yet it is often linked with expectations of what you and others “should” do or feel. Making assumption and not being open about your needs and feelings can be the cause of conflict and upset. To avoid this, talk about things and be sensitive to others, as you find a new and maybe different way to get through the holiday period.
Make a plan
Uncertainty makes people anxious, so think about if and how you want to celebrate Christmas and make a plan. You may choose to do it just as you have before or you may cancel it all together. Talk with everyone involved and plan for what you would like to happen. As with any plan it’s important to be flexible however, as things may come up that you did not anticipate and you may need to adjust for last minute changes or someone just needing to take some time for themselves when they feel upset or overwhelmed.
While people don’t want to forget the person who has died they find remembering painful, so it can feel easier not to have their photo or do what the you always used to do. But finding ways to include your loved one in the Christmas celebrations can be an opportunity to recall happy and comforting memories. There are different ways to do this, for example, hang special mementoes or a photo of them on the Christmas tree; write a letter or poem about them or to them; burn a special candle for them etc.
Take care of yourself
Grieving is tiring. Think about how you can make things easier for yourself. Let go of those expectations (yours and others). Try to avoid managing your emotions with too much alcohol and food; get enough sleep and take time to get some exercise – maybe a walk in the fresh air after Christmas lunch.
It’s OK to ask for help
This is where the “shoulds” can creep back in – I should be able to cope on my own, people should know how I feel and what I need… But neither of these is necessarily true. People can’t see how you feel if you don’t tell them. We often don’t want to burden friends and family. Consider instead that by being open about how you feel, you may be giving them a chance to share how they feel and you can support each other. Saying what you want is not selfish. Talk about it and ask other people what they want. You may not be able to keep everyone happy – but there is usually a compromise.
If you don’t have friends and family then look for other places where you can get support: organisations like Cruse Bereavement Care, the Samaritans, Widowed and Young and many more. Some of these organisations will have online forums or Facebook pages so you can make contact with someone in the wee small hours when it feels like everyone else is sleeping soundly.
Even if you try to make Christmas the same as it always has been, it is bound to feel different, but it doesn’t have to be a complete write-off – a phrase that some find useful is to remember to “celebrate what you can, not what you cannot”.