Christmas is often a wonderful time, anticipated with excitement and hope. However, for the grieving, it can be incredibly difficult and isolating. I view Christmas as a giant magnifying glass; if you’re happy with family, friends and loved-ones, these blessings are highlighted. If you are missing someone, this is also emphasised at this time of year. 2020 has been hard on everyone, and this makes things even more difficult at the moment. Particularly if it is keeping loved-ones apart, or, for the bereaved, if you were unable to have the funeral or memorial (or goodbye) you would have wished. Here are some ideas to help us all get through Christmas-time together.
Remember it’s Temporary
If you are newly bereaved, it’s important to remember that this is a temporary set-back. While it may feel as though you are back to square one, remember that Christmas sharpens the pain. Please don’t despair, it’s common to find this a trying phase. When it’s over, you will be better able to carry it all again, once more. Have little treats for yourself lined up. This is something I do, and it helps to have things to look forward to and focus on. It also helps you break down the Christmas period into smaller steps. These could be anything from a new book to read or film to watch, a bath bomb, special dinner, box of chocolates, a manicure, or a planned chat or meet-up with a friend.
There are things you can put into place to help you navigate this time. Any distressing triggers that are known to you could, to a certain degree, be managed. For instance, if there are specific traditions that will be painful, think of ways to avoid, change, adapt, or add to them. If you’d like to carry on with your usual decorations and rituals, then do so. If you’d prefer to avoid it all as much as possible, then that’s fine, too. People will equally understand if you don’t send cards or exchange gifts, or if you’re festive and socialising at every opportunity. Whatever feels right for you.
With your loved-one in mind, are there things that will help you honour them at this time of year? It could be buying a special ornament, laying a place for them at the table, or visiting somewhere to place a flower or pebble. You may wish to say a prayer for them, or give to a relevant charity in their name. You could even buy a present for them and then give it to someone or somewhere that would really benefit. You could display a photo, cook (or buy) a special dish they enjoyed, or buy their favourite flowers for your home. The simple act of lighting a candle can also bring comfort. Just setting aside some time on the day to go for a brisk walk or drive, visit a place, listen to a song or two, or be alone with your thoughts for a few minutes, can provide relief. Give yourself some space to remember and to feel your emotions. You will then be better equipped to carry on with the day.
If you know someone who is hurting, ask them what you can do to support them at Christmas. Mention their loved-one, and invite them to share memories and stories of that person with you. You could raise a toast to that person, or incorporate a new tradition, as mentioned. Check on the bereaved person throughout the holidays, even if sometimes it’s just a quick call, video chat, text message, or posting a card or letter. If you can share a story about their loved-one, or just include their name, they will appreciate it. Let them know that they are not alone, and that you are there to listen, or to distract; whatever they need. Include the bereaved, and include their absent loved-one.
The simple act of acknowledging that someone is missing is always appreciated by the grieving. This could be a recent grief, or an old one. There may be relatives or neighbours that are lonely, and although many years have passed, are still feeling wistful at this point of the year. Christmas is a time of goodwill and charity, so be patient and kind, not only to others, but also to yourself. And as the saying goes; if you’re feeling helpless, help someone. It gives you a sense of purpose as well as being compassionate. Please remember to let others know if you are struggling. This can be close relatives or friends, or it can even be a post on social media. Sometimes strangers will come forward to empathise, and you realise you are not alone, and that other people genuinely care. There are also telephone lines available if you really need to talk. Please don’t suffer in silence.
Wishing you all a gentle, peaceful Christmas, and a brighter year ahead.