Coping with Grief Over the Festive Period

Lady looking sad in front of a Christmas tree

Whether this is your first Christmas or twentieth without your loved one, the festive period is often a difficult time. The first Christmas following a person’s death is always hard for family and friends; however, even many years later the festive period is an emotive time, that may spark an outpouring of grief in a person that is otherwise coping well with their loss. Below we look at some strategies for coping with grief over the festive period. 

Grief at Christmas 

Christmas is a time of family, joy, and celebration for most people. The death of a loved one, and their missing presence at the festivities can cause an overwhelm of emotions; sadness at their death, happy reminiscences of Christmas’ past, relief if they had been ill and suffering, loneliness and much more. These feelings will be unique to everyone depending on the length of time that has passed since the death, the relationship to the person that has died, and the circumstances surrounding the death. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed by grief, there is professional support available every day of the year. There are dedicated grief support charities such as Cruse Bereavement Support who you can contact during their opening hours and speak to a professional support advisor.  Alternatively make an appointment with your GP, they are there to offer support and can refer you for counselling and to offer supportive services. There is also the Samaritans that offers a 24-hour 365-day support service for anyone in need. 

Practical Tips for Dealing with Grief at Christmas

Christmas can be a stressful time of year without grieving the loss of a loved one. Grief can make the entire festive period extremely difficult to cope with for some people. The tips below are general, depending on the time since loss and the stage of grief you are at pick and choose which aspects most align with your needs. 

  • Plan ahead
  • Acknowledge your loved one
  • Give to others 
  • Look after yourself

Plan for Christmas 

Festive candle

Despite your grief, and perhaps your desire not to celebrate at all it is often best to put a plan in place. You may want to consider family traditions and which ones you’d like to keep, change, or not follow this year. You may like to create a new tradition in honour of the person that has died. Think about where you would like to spend Christmas and with who. If you usually host lots of people and don’t feel like it this year, that’s ok. If you usually just spend Christmas with the person that has died you might find you have many offers from relatives and friends, it’s ok to take the time to think about how you would like to spend the day. If you want to skip the festivities this year that is ok too; but do get support and try to avoid spending the day alone. 

Acknowledge Your Loved One 

Grief can make some people feel uncomfortable, people may not know what to say to you, or may avoid the subject of the person that has died. There are many ways to acknowledge the person that has died during the festive period such as: 

  • Sharing memories and stories with others
  • Holding a memorial service 
  • Playing their favourite music
  • Making and eating their favourite festive dishes
  • Light a candle in their honour 
  • Donate to a charity that was important to your loved one 
  • Visit their grave or memorial plot 
  • Have a minutes silence or prayer ahead of Christmas lunch 

Focus On Others 

hands service food at a food bank

If you are struggling with the idea of having a ‘normal’ Christmas without your loved one, you could consider shifting some of your focus onto other people. There are a lot of people in need during the festive period, taking the time to help them may help you to process your loss while providing a distraction and an opportunity to completely change how your Christmas usually looks. You could consider buying gifts for a local family in need, or volunteering at a local charity or foodbank. Some charities even provide Christmas lunch for homeless people enabling you to go along and spend part of the day giving to others if you don’t feel like celebrating yourself. 

Look After Yourself 

However you choose to spend the festive period, it is important to look after yourself. Do what feels right to you. Well-meaning family and friends may push their ideas on to you, it is ok to say no and express your wishes. Ask for help if you need it, accept help that is offered. Don’t feel guilty, let go of the idea of a perfect Christmas, ignore people telling you what you should do or how you should feel. You could take this opportunity to buy yourself a gift, invest in a new hobby, or treat yourself to something that helps you to relax. And remember, it is ok to be happy. Your loved one wouldn’t want you to be sad. 

Bereavement Support 

As a celebrant Steve offers support to the families that he works with throughout the process of arranging the funeral, you can find out more about Steve as a funeral celebrant here. Recognising that grief goes on for months and years after the funeral, Steve also provides specialist bereavement support that is free and funded by his work as a celebrant. Support is provided by BCAP counsellors, and the service is accredited by ACCPH, of which Steve is a Senior Member. 

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