For people who have experienced the loss of a loved one, Christmas can be a really challenging time. If you’ve lost a loved one and you’re facing your first Christmas without them, here are some tips that could help you cope:
Acknowledge the loss
In the short-term it can feel better to just push all that pain away. Pretend it’s not there. But by burying your feelings, or trying to ignore your grief, it can actually make things more painful in the long term. Sometimes the anticipation of special occasions can be harder than the day itself, just because we don’t know how we’re going to cope, or what the day will bring. So, by acknowledging your loss, acknowledging your grief, and allowing yourself to go gently into Christmas, it can sometimes ease the stress of the big day.
Although your loved one may not physically be there on Christmas day, you can still make them a part of the day. A symbolic gesture like lighting a candle, or placing one of the person’s favourite items on the Christmas table, can help everyone feel like loved one is ‘there’ with you. Sharing memories, or toasting to them can be a lovely way to keep them involved. However, if you don’t feel you can cope with doing so, then don’t. Really it’s about what you can handle on the day, and you call the shots. It’s common to feel guilty if you have fun moments, or if you don’t think about the person who has passed as much as you believe that you should. You don’t have to feel guilty about anything. You are allowed to do, or not do, whatever you want. Grief and mourning can take many different pathways and we need to follow what is right for us.
Create new traditions
It’s not about pushing your loved one’s memory away, but sometimes new traditions arise from the loss. It could be visiting their grave, asking everyone to wear a certain colour, introducing a new Christmas board game, or serving up a new favourite dish. Sometimes this can be a way to bring some of that spark back into Christmas. It may be a different kind of spark, but still meaningful and nurturing to you and your family.
Stick to routines
That first Christmas without your loved one, you might want to just skip all the usual routines of the day. But keeping at least one core routine (i.e. get up, have breakfast, go for a walk, play with the dog) can be very helpful in coping with your grief and in putting one foot in front of the other. The actual celebration of Christmas might not be the same for you, but if you at least have a basic routine in place, and you know what’s coming up, it can help you emotionally survive the day.
Many people fall into the habit of responding with, “No, I’ve got it,” when asked if we need a hand. But during this vulnerable period, take all the offers of help you can. It’s true what they say, “No (wo)man is an island”. Christmas can be a stressful time of the year at the best of times, the first Christmas since you lost your loved one can be even more so. Having others pitch in and help, or take things off your to-do list, can ease the burden for you. It can also allow you to take some time out to process what’s gone on.
Christmas might never be the same when you’ve lost a loved one, but it can take on new forms and new meanings for you and your family.