How can you cope with the loss of a loved one at Christmas?
Facing Christmas after the death of a loved one can be daunting. The heartbreak that comes with grief and loss is exacerbated during the holidays, a time characterised by family gatherings, memory sharing and gift giving. There are expectations to celebrate at Christmas time by putting up the tree, sending out cards and gifts, and coming together with family and friends. These traditions and rituals can seem impossible when you’re facing a loss, but you may still feel the pressure to participate. We know that the pain of grief doesn’t go away, but it will get easier to manage over time. We understand how difficult the holidays are for you, and we want to help you navigate this season. Here is our 5 step guide to a healing holiday season.
1. Give yourself permission to sit this one out
It is okay to not participate in all your usual festivities. This Christmas looks a whole lot different than last years, and it is understandable that you’re not feeling the holiday spirit. It is OK to set boundaries for yourself, and skip the things you feel pressured to do; wrapping gifts, putting up the tree, attending parties. Grant yourself permission this year, and see how you are feeling next year.
2. Remember your loved one in a special way
Perhaps set up a chair and placemat for your loved one at the dinner table this Christmas, and dedicate a moment to them. Perhaps you can go around the table and share your favourite memories with this person, light a candle for them, or create a memory box. This is a chance to honour their memory with loved ones. You can implement these traditions going forward, so you can dedicate a moment to your loved one each year.
3. Use your support systems
Allow yourself to feel all the ugly feelings of grief. Cry, be angry, laugh, all of it. Let it out, and don’t bottle it up. It will be hard, but that just shows the special place your loved one held in your heart. Use your support systems around you, and cry on someone’s shoulder. Talking about your feelings will help you navigate the grieving process a little easier.
4. Recognise and manage your triggers
Feelings of grief and loss might be triggered by certain traditions, songs, smells or people during the holidays. Reflect and recognise what may trigger you, and understand how your body reacts; it might be panic, anxiety, or depressive thoughts. Plan and try some coping strategies to manage these feelings. Coping strategies might involve removing yourself from a situation, practicing breathing or grounding exercises, or bringing a journal along to your Christmas gathering for when you need a quiet moment. A trigger might be a particular person or how they behave or speak to you. In this case, you may need to set some boundaries with them this season.
5. Seek therapy
A psychologist or therapist can help you to navigate grief and loss, working with you to develop strategies to cope now and heal going forward so that you can live a fulfilling life.
It won't be easy. Grief is a rollercoaster ride, and the holiday season can remind you of everything you are missing. With time, these feelings will become easier. Try to celebrate your loved one during the holiday season when you feel up to it, and use the support around you to navigate your loss.