Christmas can take on a whole new meaning after someone we know and perhaps love, dies. The anticipation of the Day can be experienced as dread and fear. The thought of moving through the day and all the activity leading up to the Day, without that special person physically present with us, can fill us with dread, anxiety and a sense of emptiness. If it is a first Christmas without the person, it may seem surreal. You may find yourself asking ‘did it really happen’, ‘did he/she really die’. You may dread the thought of trying to keep an upbeat tone or to be sociable when you would really rather avoid the day completely. The Christmas season can feel like an unrelenting, harsh reminder of our loss.
Often the experience of this anticipation leading up to the Day can be worse than the actual occasion itself. However, it can be helpful to prepare; to think about how you might like to approach such an occasion. You might like to reflect on those aspects of the Day which worry or will challenge you most, potential triggers for your grief and emotions that you may not feel prepared to face at that time.
For some, Christmas nurtures their sense of spirituality or faith. But in the face of grief, it may raise questions or doubts around beliefs, spirituality or values. This can be a normal grief experience often calling for a voice and space to be heard in the same way other aspects of loss require support.
Here are some suggestions that others have found helpful as they approach Christmas:
- Break with past traditions and introduce a new tradition to honour the life of the person who has died in a way that helps you stay connected with their memory;
- Maintain a Christmas tradition that you shared with the person who died. It may be helpful to share the importance of this with family and friends so you feel supported.
- If spending time with family or friends, think about ways you can incorporate some of the memories you have with them when you meet.
- Write a Christmas card to the person who has died describing your fondest Christmas memory with them. You might like to hang it with your other cards, keep it somewhere personal or place it under a Christmas tree.
- Relinquish any expectations of how you think you ‘should’ be on the day and permit yourself to ‘be’, grief and all.
- Be open and share with family and friends about your hesitations/fears/anxiety of Christmas Day.
- Nurture yourself at this time of the year. Exercise some self compassion. Grief is a normal response to loss so you are entitled to be bereft.
- Talk to someone if you feel the anticipation of the day is weighing down on you.
Whatever you decide is the best approach to cope with this Christmas, we wish you solace.