Coping with Christmas after a bereavement
The festive period can feel daunting and unmanageable when someone you care about has passed away, whether it has happened within the last 12 months or even longer. This is often due to the season being a time focused on celebrating with friends and loved ones.
At Priory, we understand that this time of year can be difficult for you in many ways and recognise that grief is a personal journey. Therefore, we have put together a few suggestions that could help you process the feelings which may occur at this time of the year. We have also outlined the support that is available to you at Priory if you feel that you need some further help or a space to talk.
Should I celebrate Christmas or not?
This is a common question that is asked by many, including those who may not have recently lost someone. It is not unusual to feel as though you want to ‘cancel’ Christmas, and it’s completely fine to think this way. The absence of someone you care about can be felt much deeper or even all over again at this time as the reminder is there once again of something you’re doing without them.
What you do at this time of year is completely up to you and you mustn’t feel pressured into anything or feel that you need to attend or organise an occasion, especially if it is something that was an established routine before you lost someone. You should do what feels right for you and sometimes it is helpful to establish new routines. It may be that you have never hosted a small Christmas party, yet you now want to bring your close loved ones and friends to you to have a celebration and reminisce with happiness. Or it could be the opposite and you may want to cancel the yearly get-together that you regularly hosted because it is too soon to manage and process the change. Both are ok, and you are allowed to make your own decisions.
Whatever you decide to do remember that grief can be tiring, so make sure you have the time and space you need, and surround yourself with support, even if you chose to keep this at the end of the phone or in the room with you. You may also want to do something special in memory of your loved one, such as lighting a candle, playing their favourite song or hanging a special ornament - this Christmas is still your time and you can still include them too.
Also, it’s helpful to remember that your friends and family only mean well. While they may come across as a little pushy when they ask you to attend a party or trip to the Christmas markets, be honest with them and let them know if you need space.
Look after yourself
As easy as it is to throw away structure at Christmas, make sure that you maintain some routine and look after yourself by eating well, maintaining a good sleep routine and continuing to go outdoors for fresh air. Also, be kind to yourself and add a regular dose of self-care into your plans. Try not to use food or alcohol to attempt to dull the pain you may be feeling, as unfortunately those effects of relief will only be temporary.
Having fun can often trigger a feeling of guilt. At this time, it may help to ask yourself ‘if your loved one was here, would they wish to see the smile that they remember you for or the sadness that you feel you should have’. Asking this can often help us to realise it is ok to be happy or smile again.
Share your favourite memories
Don’t be afraid of remembering your loved one and talking about them. It is important to make time to acknowledge your feelings, whether you do in your own space or with people you care about so that you can share special memories and stories together.
Family and friends are likely to grieve someone’s loss differently, as everyone responds in unique ways, so it is important to take this into consideration.
The loss of a loved one can affect you in unexpected ways. If you feel as though you need additional support and guidance during the festive period, Priory has bereavement counselling and therapy that can help you to feel supported during this time.
Our team of highly experienced counsellors and therapists will be able to put together a plan that you are comfortable with and which meets your emotional needs. During the time you spend with us, you will take part in talking therapies and learn effective techniques that help you to look after yourself and manage your feelings in the future.
This page was reviewed by Lucinda Pollard - the Therapy Business Manager at Priory Hospital Woodbourne and Priory Wellbeing Centre Birmingham - in November 2018, and is scheduled to be reviewed again in November 2020.