Tips for coping with Christmas after loss

Unfortunately, for many of us Christmas does not herald in the most wonderful time of the year. In fact, after a loss it can indeed prove to be one of the biggest challenges in the calendar. Whether it’s the first Christmas since your loss, or time has passed, we hope you can find some help and support in our following suggestions.

Acknowledge it’s Going to be Tough

With the ‘joy’ of Christmas ringing out, literally, from shops, radios, events and more, if you’re not feeling ‘in the spirit’ you can end up actually feeling worse. You can’t help but realise what you’re feeling is at odds with what you perceive everyone else to be experiencing.

Firstly, realise that even though it might not feel like it, not everyone else is feeling joyful either. Secondly, it’s ok to accept that Christmas is going to be tough.

Additionally, it’s completely normal, and entirely appropriate, to feel the spirit of the season in one moment, and to be floored with a memory or grief in the next.

So acknowledge that it has the potential to be challenging and that there is no right or wrong way of handling it. You may in fact then find it’s not as bad as you fear.

Make it Meaningful

The problem with festivities like Christmas is that they have become meaningful through their association with loved ones. If a loved one is now missing, it makes it incredibly hard to find meaning behind the celebration. The challenge is to find a way to bring meaning, drawing on the loss, into your Christmas celebrations.

What you do to find meaning will depend on you and your relationship with whom you’ve lost. You may wish to light a candle at the dinner table in memory of them, display a photo, or hang a commemorative bauble on the tree. You may wish to visit their grave, or a memorial garden, on Christmas Day itself. The important thing is to focus on the happy memories as much as you can, rather than the loss and regret.

Accept Help

Christmas after a loss will involve adjustments – adjustments that feel pressurised because of the time of year. However, just because Christmas is in the calendar doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grieve and process your loss, as you need to. Understandably, this can be difficult if there are expectations on you to ‘do’ Christmas as you always have. If this is the case for you then try to ask for help, and then accept it. It’s not a failure.

Avoid, Side-Step, Indulge

There is no right or wrong way for managing Christmas after a loss. For some they will find throwing themselves into all of the traditions and festivities a diversion and help. For others you may do better to avoid shops, side-step celebrations, and stay away from festive parties. In these instances, it can help to have a plan about what you’ll do on and around Christmas that is entirely different from what you’d usually do. Go on holiday, go for a walk, or volunteer.

Think of Yourself

At Christmas, even the best-intentioned friends and family will get lost in their own busy-ness. Therefore, you’ll need to take time to actively prioritise your own needs. After a loss, this is incredibly important. You need time and space to grieve in your own way. So it’s ok to be a little selfish and do what’s right for you. It’s a priority and an important one, and will help you to move forwards.

Nonetheless don’t take it personally if people don’t mention your loss, or take the time for you that you had expected they would. Instead, tell people what you need and what they can do to help.

It’s Just One Day

And at the end of it all, it will pass. It is just one day. It may not feel it now whilst the loss is raw, but the intensity of pain will pass. Christmas can make it seem more acute, but it will become easier in time.