When you’ve lost someone you love, the Christmas holidays can seem far from the happiest time of the year. Here are our 12 tips for surviving the festive season after a bereavement.
1. Talk about it
If you’ve recently lost a close family member or friend, this Christmas will inevitably be different. Before you make plans, try talking about the fact that it might be really hard this year. That way others will feel that it’s OK to be sad and there’s no pressure to put on a brave face.
2. Keep things flexible
Family relationships often get strained around Christmas, and if you’re coping with grief, you might feel extra anxious about getting together. Be open about your own needs and flexible around other people’s. If you can’t face organising a meal or visiting relatives, maybe a family walk or video call could work? Likewise, if someone really needs company, explore ways to help them feel supported.
3. Look after yourself
We all handle bereavement in different ways, and the festive season can bring back memories that intensify your feelings. To look after your mental health, stick to a basic everyday routine: Get up, eat regularly, get some daylight and exercise, and keep in touch with people around you.
4. Limit alcohol
T’is the season to be boozing – but drinking or doing drugs to dull your feelings after a bereavement can make you feel a lot worse, and lead to arguments, depression, even addiction. If you’re drinking too much, see point 3, and ask for help.
5. Do it differently
Christmas traditions can seem meaningless when your loved one isn’t there to share them. If something doesn’t bring you joy, don’t do it. It’s OK to not write 37 Christmas cards or cover the house in multicoloured twinkling reindeer. Go away somewhere new, curl up on the sofa, or skip the celebrations completely. The people who love you will understand.
6. Remember your loved one
There are many ways to keep your loved one’s memory alive at Christmas. For example, light a candle by their photo or grave, decorate a bauble - or the whole house - in their honour, serve their favourite food, or buy something they would have loved and give it to someone who really needs it.
7. Make new traditions
If you’re ready, try creating new traditions that suit your life now. If turkey was never really your thing, maybe now is the time for steak and chips, sushi or a slap-up veggie meal? Or donating to charity instead of buying presents and inviting the neighbours around for mince pies.
8. Talk about them
Mentioning people we’ve lost can feel comforting. Make a toast to them, or to ‘absent friends’, on Christmas Day. And if it feels right, watch old video clips or look through photos together.
9. Lend a hand
Sometimes focusing on other people’s needs can give you a break from your own grief. If you’re feeling up to it, offer a helping hand to someone else who is struggling – it is Christmas after all.
10. Express yourself
If you’re missing them terribly, don’t keep it all bottled up. Pour it into a letter or Christmas card, paint or draw a favourite memory, belt out a Christmas classic (with or without an audience), talk to someone or join a grief support group. You’ll feel better afterwards.
11. Reflect on your future
Try thinking about things you’d like to do in the coming year. From painting your bedroom or joining a choir to starting bereavement counselling or moving house: make a list of things that will make you feel better. You might change your mind, but at least you’ll emerge from Christmas with some ideas for what your future could look like now.
12. It’s OK to feel OK
Grief can suddenly lift like fog when you forget for a moment that they’re gone. If it happens, don’t feel guilty – allow yourself some happiness in the middle of it all.
To meet others who are also going through grief, join Untangle’s free online peer support groups. If you need some extra support over the holidays, The Samaritans provides a free confidential listening service 24/7, all year, with no judgement or pressure.