Coping with Bereavement at Christmas

Christmas is upon us and sometimes we feel kind of threatened by it. It can sometimes feel like we have to do something and be involved. What if we don’t want to? We could always book a holiday away and make it something completely different to the Christmas we used to have (Covid-19 restrictions considered), but we do have to bear in mind that family and friends can be the support we need at this time.

Your family and friends will know that it is difficult for you and will no doubt offer their help. I would suggest that you take them up on offers of help wherever you can. This could be something like cooking or shopping. It could also be a listener on the end of the telephone.

I know grief first hand. I decided to write this because I know it is not just me facing Christmas with the empty chair, empty house, empty bedroom, empty everything. This year, due to Covid-19 restrictions, I have found that Christmas has not been shoved in my face as much as it has in the past. This year I have been able to side-track and keep away from the carols playing in the supermarkets. I have not heard as many adverts on the radio with jingly bells as much and although I have seen the adverts on television, there doesn’t seem to have been as many.

This is a slight relief for those who often feel they have to put on that mask to hide their feelings when out shopping for presents or groceries. Whether we have children at home or facing grief alone this Christmas, our grief will be present. Coping with Christmas whilst experiencing grief takes some thought, maybe some planning and acceptance that this is the reality. As I write this I remember a poem that goes like this..

I am wearing a pair of shoes.
They are ugly shoes.
Uncomfortable Shoes.
I hate my shoes.
Each day I wear them, and each day I wish I had another pair.
Some days my shoes hurt so bad that I do not think I can take another step. Yet, I continue to wear them.
I get funny looks wearing these shoes. They are looks of sympathy.
I can tell in others’ eyes that they are glad they are my shoes and not theirs.
They never talk about my shoes. To learn how awful my shoes are might make them uncomfortable.
To truly understand these shoes you must walk in them.
But, once you put them on, you can never take them off.
I now realize that I am not the only one who wears these shoes.
There are many pairs in the world.
Some women are like me and ache daily as they try and walk in them.
Some have learned how to walk in them so they don’t hurt quite as much.
Some have worn the shoes so long that days will go by before they think of how much they hurt.
No woman deserves to wear these shoes.
Yet, because of the shoes I am a stronger woman.
These shoes have given me the strength to face anything.
They have made me who I am. I will forever walk in the shoes of a woman who has lost a child. (Author Unknown)

How will we do it?

Nobody needs to tell us that this is going to be hard. Being prepared that Christmas is going to be difficult can arm us with some defences to help us through this period. One thing I like to think is that it is just the one day. I don’t have to eat Christmas dinner if I don’t feel like it and if I do, it is not that much different than a Sunday roast with a few extra luxury sauces and nibbles if you want them.

I don’t know about you, but when I resurfaced from my grief I found that my priorities had changed. I used to be a people-pleaser and say yes to people when I really didn’t have enough time or just didn’t really want to do what they suggested. I then spent the next few days wishing I had said no or wondering how I could get out of it. What a lot of mither! Now, if I really don’t feel like doing something, I don’t fib and say I have something else planned, I just say that I don’t want to be included this time around. I am always polite and thank whoever for thinking of me. It’s much much easier, believe me.

So, if you feel pressured into doing something this Christmas that may be making you feel full of dread, be honest about your feelings. You could change the day so that it is not a significant day, or suggest something different. People will understand. Communicating your preferences in advance is another good way of relaxing around the thought that you know what you will be doing.

How come others in the family are coping?

If you ever feel that your grief is affecting you differently, or it appears to you that others are getting on with things whilst you feel you are not coping, remember that even if we have lost the same person, we all manage our grief in different ways. We have all had our unique relationship with the one who has died, even if we are all siblings and have lost the same Dad or Mum.

Talking about your feelings with a trusted person can help you to offload and have a good cry, instead of bottling things up. You could arrange to speak to a bereavement counsellor in confidence or contact an advice line listed here….

Whatever you choose, don’t grieve alone for too long. Give yourself some quiet time but please remember to talk to someone as well. You might like to keep some notes about how you are feeling. I did this and almost turned it into a book. I still aim to write this book, but who would buy it? I am nobody famous. I envisaged my book sat on the shelf in a shop forever. That wouldn’t do my feelings any good. I still like to blog about my grief. I find writing my story down helps me to get my feelings out there.

Don’t allow yourself to feel guilty.

Sending Christmas cards to people and wondering what to do about the names on the card can be too much for us to manage. Do I put their name on? What will others think if I put their name on? Do I leave their name off? I don’t think I can live with the fact that I have just left their name off? Send cards if you want to but don’t send them if you don’t want to. Again, people will understand. After all, you are likely to receive cards with your loved one’s name missing. If you do send cards, you might like to consider adding your lost loved one’s name like this, ‘Lots of love from x, x and our lovely x, who is always remembered. It may be that you could ask your family and friends to mention your loved one in cards that they send. It can be quite hard for those sending cards to you; wanting to send one but not knowing what to write. Don’t worry if you don’t want to buy presents as material things can lose their meaning after losing someone. Be gentle with yourself.

Self-care is a must.

When you want to cry, go for it. When you cry, don’t think that there is something wrong with you or that you are different to other people who are grieving. Crying is part of grieving. Allow yourself to feel your emotions and just let it out. I know this can be hard when you live with others and you don’t want to upset them, but it is usually found that families who share the same loss can be torn apart by grief because they don’t want to upset each other. Relationships have been known to break down (marriages through the loss of their child, for example) because they just cannot console each other, so solace is found elsewhere.

What should we do to help ourselves?

I found that joining a group of bereaved parents (this can be different in your cases – widowers, widows, pets etc) can get us in touch with others who are suffering like us. We can share our stories and usually get quick responses from others who are going through similar. Sometimes it can be helpful for us to talk and interact with others who are struggling.

We can choose to spend our time with people that we know understand us and listen to us. We can choose to not spend time with people who think they know what we need over Christmas. They are really trying their best to help you but it may not be what you want. If they insist you spend time with them (because they think they are helping you), you can agree a length of time to be with them. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with telling them you can see them for an hour. That way you can prepare yourself for that hour and no longer. There’s nothing worse than feeling uncomfortable and wondering how long you are going to be there, and when you say, “I need to go now, if that’s okay?” Wouldn’t it be better to say, “I can come from 12 till 1”? and then that’s what is expected from both sides. That hour will fly by if you are in the right company.

When the day comes, remember to make time for yourself and have a plan to escape if things feel they are becoming a bit overwhelming. The clinking of glasses and cheerful people may not be something you are comfortable with. A walk outside and a deep intake of breath can be such a relief.

Remember, not everybody enjoys Christmas. Some of us have to put on brave faces. Always remember there are people who are more than willing to listen to your struggles. Don’t struggle on your own.

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