Coping with grief is incredibly difficult at any time of year, but the first Christmas after a bereavement can be particularly painful.
It can often make your pain and loss feel even more profound as you sit with your memories and watch others making new ones with their loved ones.
Nothing can take away that sadness, but there are things you can do to make Christmas more manageable after the death of somebody special.
We’re going to give you some tips on how to cope.
Losing a loved one can be very difficult to accept and the grieving process is rarely linear.
Some days you might feel you can cope ok, while others may seem impossible to manage.
Grieving people don’t know how they are going to feel one day to the next, which is completely normal.
Sometimes the run up to a big celebration like Christmas, religious holidays, birthdays or anniversaries can be far worse than the day itself because of the anticipation.
Accepting that you can’t predict your feelings and emotions can help take the pressure off.
#1: Don’t stifle your emotions
The thing with grief is that there’s no way around it, you must go through it – and that means allowing yourself to feel those difficult feelings.
If you don’t acknowledge your grief and sadness, and try to push those emotions away, it’ll make you feel worse.
It’s quite natural to feel heartbroken, devastated and lonely if someone you love died and you are missing them even more than usual because it’s Christmas.
Let yourself feel the feelings and process them, as stifling them won’t help.
What the experts say:
Andy Puddicombe, Buddhist Monk, and the founder of Meditation platform Headspace, says that sitting with your feelings is vitally important.
Andy says, “When we summon the courage to sit with grief, we discover that we are cultivating an environment where thoughts can be heard, where feelings can be felt, and where healing can begin.”
He believes that a mindful approach to grief and doing meditation can help you to come to terms with loss.
He adds, “In some ways, the antidote to loneliness is to be more present. Not caught up in the story of loneliness, but rather resting in the present moment.”
#2: Connect with others
Bereavement can be very isolating, but sadly there are many people out there going through a similar ordeal.
Each of us deals with grief and loss in our own way, but it can be very comforting to speak to those who are facing a similar situation at Christmas.
What the experts say:
Authors Robinson et al. discovered that bereaved people found online groups valuable because they create ‘normalisation, validation, healing, and community’
They say “Studies find that support group participants hope to share their suffering, thoughts and feelings with non-judgmental others who listen, relate, and understand”
Being with people who have experienced a similar loss will help you to deal with the changing nature of grief over time.
#3: Do what’s right for you
You may feel like you don’t want to mark Christmas this year but feel guilty that you’d be letting others down if you skipped it.
Perhaps you might feel up to doing some elements of the festivities but can’t bear the thought of other traditions.
It’s perfectly acceptable to feel like Christmas is too much and you don’t want to slap on a brave face and do it to make others feel happy.
Instead, decide what you need to do to cope and then have an open and honest conversation about your decision and why you needed to make it.
What the experts say:
The experts at bereavement organisation Cruse believe that you need to have the Christmas that works best for you at this moment.
They write, “Try planning in advance how you’ll celebrate. You may not feel the need to celebrate Christmas at all. Or, you might find sticking to at least some of your normal Christmas traditions is the best way to support your family and pay tribute to the person who died.
“It’s important to do what’s right for you and try not to feel pressured into doing anything you’re not comfortable with.”
#4: Create new traditions
If you’ve spent many Christmases with the loved one you’ve lost there are likely to be lots of traditions that you’d associate with them.
The idea of following those traditions without them may feel unimaginable.
So, many bereavement experts believe that adapting old traditions or creating new ones is a helpful tactic for grieving people.
You can even create a new tradition that includes the person who died – such as a special bauble, a memory wreath or a candle of remembrance.
What the experts say:
The team at Sue Ryder, a charity that supports people at the end of life or during grief, have some excellent advice for coping with grief at Christmas.
They say, “Starting a new tradition may also help the children in your family, particularly if they’re struggling too. It can be difficult for them to know how to act when the people they love are grieving, but finding new ways to remember the person you’re missing during this time can bring you together as a family.
#5: Remember your loved one
The person you love may have passed on, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be a meaningful part of your Christmas.
You could put out more photographs of them at Christmas, invite family and friends to share their memories and stories, visit places that are special, or ask everyone to write a message to them that can be collected in a festive stocking.
These things can be cathartic and help you to remember wonderful times and acknowledge how much you miss them.
Those actions can also become traditions for future Christmas celebrations, so your loved one continues to be included.
Everything you are thinking and feeling is normal
If there’s one thing you take from this, let it be that everything you are going through right now is perfectly normal.
There’s nothing like a sudden death or tragic loss to make you feel as far from your usual self as possible.
There are so many aspects to grief, and you might feel all kinds of guilt if you have a few moments of happiness or the odd laugh or two.
But please know that all your emotions are valid, whatever they may be, and grief is a journey that’s personal to each of us.
Just be incredibly kind and forgiving of yourself and let those around you look after you this Christmas.
It will get easier, but for now, you just have to sit with those difficult feelings and allow yourself the space to grieve.
At Kari Health, we know everybody’s experience of grief is different. We are here for you.
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