It’s now only a couple of weeks before the festive season really hits us, and the chances are that you are looking forward to a Christmas to remember. But maybe not.
If you have suffered a loss or bereavement, Christmas can be a gruelling time. Traditional family rituals, the familiar sounds of carols, even the smells of Christmas can all evoke powerful memories of Christmas’s past, and leave an overwhelming sense of sadness. What’s more, feeling that you are ‘supposed’ to be happy at this time of year, can have the effect of compounding yyour grief and increasing existing stresses.
Here are some practical pointers to help you get through Christmas, if you are bereaved or separated from loved ones.
1) Be Kind to Yourself
You might receive lots of offers, suggestions, advice and ideas about how you “should” spend Christmas. But think about where and how you would like to spend the holiday. Are you perhaps facing a Christmas without children or without one particular child for the first time? If so, would you prefer to spend the day completely alone with your partner or other children? Or surround yourself with family and friends? Talk through your plans with those that are close to you, but whatever you decide, do everything you can to make sure Christmas is as you would like it.
2) Allow Yourself to Feel
Those suffering loss or bereavement often feel under pressure to hide their feelings from others at Christmas, worried that their grief might ‘hijack’ the festivities. But it is important that feelings are honoured and expressed. So if you feel sad, allow yourself to cry; if you’re angry, find a way to let off steam. Talk to those you will be spending Christmas with about this beforehand. Think about how you might express your emotions to your children, using age-appropriate language, and how to help them express their feelings too.
3) Look After Your Body
Get plenty of sleep and rest. Tiredness can magnify emotions, so try to take a nap whenever you can, even if this is at the expense of Christmas preparations. It’s much more important to rest than to whip up an extra batch of mince pies or bake a Christmas cake!
Stay moderately active over Christmas. Even gentle exercise can help stimulate the natural chemicals that improve your mood, and will encourage better sleeping patterns.
As tempting as it might be to try to lift your mood or drown your sorrows with chocolates and alcohol, try not to overdo either! Both can cause a dip in mood, and mess up your sleeping patterns, once the initial effect has worn off.
4) Get Support
It’s important to get practical and emotional support at Christmas. Whether it’s family, friends or colleagues, you need a variety of people around who are able to give you the kind of support you need. This could be just listening to you talk, sitting quietly with you, helping you around the house, or looking after the kids while you look after yourself. Remember though that family and friends are often able to offer support and love, but sometimes their own can grief can get in the way. If this is the case, you may find it particularly helpful to discuss your feelings with someone impartial, such as your GP or a counsellor and/or join a support group.
5) Honouring the Absent Person
Establishing some rituals that honour the person who is no longer there may help you express your grief and also that of the rest of your family. Perhaps young children might want to make a card for the absent person or watch their favourite film? Or make a charitable donation in their name? Or you may want to light a candle or launch a Chinese lantern? As you make Christmas preparations, don’t be afraid to talk about the absent person, using age-appropriate language for children, and share memories with those around you.