How to cope with loss at Christmas time

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Posted on: 08 Dec 2020

Jeanette Watts, bereavement counsellor at Nottingham Hospitals, supports people who have lost a loved one. In our special blog, she shares her advice on how to cope with loss during the Christmas period.

I have found that whether it is the first Christmas that a person is facing, or whether the loss happened years previously, it can still be a very painful time. Memories of past times can bring smiles and comfort but also sadness and loneliness.

Sometimes the anticipation of Christmas can be harder to cope with than the actual event, especially if this is the first Christmas since the loss. This year, with COVID-19 restrictions in place, not seeing family and friends who may be able to help manage the anticipation and worry can make this even harder to bear.

The world may seem full of cosy adverts on TV showing families together, the same for Christmas films and other programmes. Perhaps ones that in the past have been shared with a loved one.

Christmas cards and music are everywhere, as are decorations and special food and drink, all of which hold memories. It is virtually impossible to escape.

What is extremely important is to recognise that every bereaved person will have their own ways of coping with Christmas and with their feelings and thoughts about it.

Here are some suggestions for helping cope with grief this festive season:

  • Plan ahead and make lists, try not to keep everything in your head. You can decide what you feel you can manage to do this year, and accept that you do not have to do everything.
  • Speak with family and friends, who you may be spending Christmas with, about what your needs might be and what you feel able to manage. Talking things through with them and perhaps making a Christmas plan can be really helpful. It is important to remember that everyone grieves differently, so listening and being sensitive to each other's ways of coping is important.
  • If children are involved ask them too what they would like to do this year and involve them as much as you can.
  • Consider new ways of celebrating – you do not have to change existing family traditions, but you can also make new ones. These can be as simple as visiting a grave or special place (restrictions allowing), lighting a candle at the Christmas table in honour of your loved one, or decorating a special tree or bush with lights in the garden.
  • Find space for yourself. If you are with family and friends over Christmas let them know that you may need some time to yourself. You can go for a walk or rest in your room for a while. Grief is exhausting, both emotionally and physically. Allow yourself this time and look after yourself.
  • Allow yourself to cry, laugh and enjoy moments if you can. Smiles and tears can live together.
  • Reach out to others if you need help. Try and remember that you are not alone. You can contact Cruse Bereavement Care on 0808 808 1677 or the Samaritans on 116 123. The Robin Centre is also here to offer to support to those who have lost a pregnancy, baby or child.
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