Surviving Christmas after losing a loved one

Christmas! A time of good cheer! Lights and decorations as far as the eye can see, Christmas songs blaring out in the supermarket, shoppers jostling with trollies full of turkey and tinsel and films on every tv channel showing us how, at Christmas, anything is possible and the story always has a happy ending. But that’s not how it is for us, not this Christmas. However many times we wish upon a star, our loved ones are never coming back. For us, Christmas is a stark reminder that life has changed and can never be the same again.

That first Christmas, especially, can be literally bewildering. It may be that you now find yourself alone at Christmas for the first time, or maybe you will have a family Christmas but with an empty seat at the table. Many people find that their grief casts such a shadow over Christmas festivities that they cannot face taking part in any way. Some feel able to enter into the quieter, more reflective practices such as services of remembrance, church services and carol concerts. Some force themselves to “go through the motions” for the sake of the children in the family. Whatever your preference is for getting yourself through this Christmas, the important thing is to look after yourself. You don’t have to put yourself through any more than you feel able to cope with. Remember that socialising can be exhausting when you are grieving and don’t be afraid to let people know how hard it is for you. Those well-meaning friends and family members who try to “jolly” you out of your sadness don’t understand how you are feeling and you may need to gently reassure them that sitting with your feelings for at least some of the time may be just what you need to help you accept the reality of your loss. Of course, none of us wants to be the “party pooper” and the ideal situation will be one where we can dip in and out of activities without worrying that we are letting others down.

A good friend of The White Lily Centre, renowned psychologist and grief therapist, Dr. Bill Webster, has kindly written an article about a grieving Christmas and I am pleased to share it with you below in the hope that it will help you plan your strategy for your journey through the festive period.

Wishing you a peaceful Christmas and a positive New Year,

Margaret Francis

Prof. Dip Psy C Cert. Hyp CS

Director of The White Lily Centre

Tel: 023 8044 0961 Email: [email protected]

A Change in Direction for Christmas

By Dr. Bill Webster

I realize that for many of you, this last year has brought an unexpected twist, a change in direction in your life journey. You probably didn’t expect you would be having a grieving Christmas after the loss of a loved one, and frankly you wish you didn’t have to be. You may feel stuck in this situation, wondering if there is a way forward.

I am always very conscious that when someone you care about dies, your world changes. The world looks and feels different. Many times, well intentioned people see that we are emotional. They worry because we are so confused, forgetful, not able to concentrate, anxious, irritable, crying, and struggling with guilt and anger and depression. In an attempt to be helpful, they often focus on emotions, behaviours and reactions they observe, and suggest strategies to help us “get over it.”

I have come to realize that the key to understanding bereavement is in realizing that the bereaved person’s world had been changed by the loss. Your world looks and feels different, and with it this Christmas. For everyone else, it is the season to be jolly, the most wonderful time of the year. But for you, it just isn’t the same.

Why is Christmas so difficult for grieving people? There may be several reasons. This season, for many traditions and cultures, is a time of celebration. It can be difficult as we remember better days and compare them to THIS Christmas. Holidays are usually a time to look to the future, but now future appears difficult … unimaginable, and uncertainty always creates fear. So we are apprehensive about what we have to confront. We may even feel guilty about enjoying ourselves at Christmas, thinking this might be regarded as disrespectful to the person who has died. I believe we need to balance grieving what we have lost with appreciating what (and who) we still have.

I have Three Gifts for you today … Gifts for a Grieving Christmas. The first is given for YOU, the second has to do with your loved one, and the third concerns your family and friends.

My First Gift is for YOU. Maybe you are facing this Christmas season with dread.   Here are a few suggestions: 

  • Recognize that this Christmas is different.
  • Plan ahead. Decide what YOU want to do. Act rather than react.
  • Avoid “shoulds” and “oughts”.
  • Re-examine your priorities.
  • Make the changes you think are best.
  • Be honest about your feelings.
  • Take responsibility for your own happiness.
  • Look after yourself. Don’t abandon healthy habits.
  • Be compassionate with yourself if things are not perfect this year.
  • Believe in yourself, that your determination will help get you through.

The Next gift focuses on your loved one. They may be gone, but I am sure they will be very much on your mind:

  • Acknowledge your loved one’s presence.
  • Create a special tribute to your loved one. (Involve children in this one if you can).
  • Don’t be afraid to relive your memories.
  • Celebrate the person’s life as well as acknowledging their
  • Don’t allow looking back at the past to spoil what you have in the present.
  • Believe that there are reasons to go on, even though you may not see what they are right now.

My Final Gift has to do with others around you like family and friends. Remember, they may be grieving too:  

  • Balance solitude and sociability.
  • Ask for and accept help.
  • Set differences aside.
  • Learn to say “No” to things that seem too much for you.
  • Take a break from stressful situations.
  • Try to find something positive and meaningful in your life.
  • Take care of children. Children know when something is “wrong” and giving them a good Christmas creates a sense of safety and security.
  • Try to make OTHERS happy. You’ll be surprised how well this works for YOU!
  • But regardless, just remember … there will be OTHER Christmases.

 

There’s a little verse in the Christmas story of the Wise Men that often goes unnoticed. After finding the baby in Bethlehem, they returned home “by a different route”. They had to find a different road forward than the way they had come. When you have experienced bereavement, you suddenly find that life has taken on a whole new direction. Sometimes in life we have to find new ways and a different route to get to where we need to be.

Perhaps you face this Christmas with some apprehension, and, this year, you feel like the light has gone out of your life. Nothing seems quite right, and you wonder if you have the strength to go on.

But folks, no matter how dark your situation, remember one thing. There is not enough darkness in the whole universe to hide the light of even one candle. Even one glimmer of light can overcome the darkness. It may not banish it completely, but it is never all dark as long as there remains one flicker of hope.

So come on, and light a candle with me. With God’s help, and with the help of family and friends, you will be surprised how that flickering flame of hope will continue to burn. You will make it through, even though it may not be easy. Your supply of strength and patience may be low, but hang in, because no matter what has shattered your hopes or your dreams or even broken your heart, you are not beyond repair. 

 So, whatever the situation you are in, find ways to face the future with hope, which in its simplest definition is “the belief that good is still to come”.

“May you have a meaningful Christmas and a better New Year.”

(Dr Bill Webster has a website at www.griefjourney.com, where you will find a 30 minute video and some helpful information on Coping with Christmas, including “Helping Children” through the season.)