Coping with grief at Christmas

Christadelphian Aged Care Homes

By Cathy Strachan, Pastoral Care Coordinator, Casa Mia Aged Care

You may experience an unexpected increase in your feelings of grief on special days that are important and meaningful to you and your family.

For example – birthdays, anniversaries (especially the anniversary of the death), Christmas or Easter, or any other special family traditions.

These feelings can also be triggered by other occasions such as hearing a meaningful song, smelling a particular perfume,or visiting places that bring back memories. It is normal to feel this heightened sense of loss with thistype of reminder. It is common to wonder why you are experiencing increased feelings of loss and not understand the cause, only to realise that a significant date is approaching or has passed.

It can be useful to plan ahead for these days, realising they may be difficult. Depending on the individual, you may like to spend the day alone or with friends and family, or keep yourself occupied in some other way. You cannot change the circumstances but you can change the way you approach these occasions.

Religious celebrations are supposed to be a joyous time and most people spend them with family. Again it will be normal to experience increased anxiety and heightened grief when anticipating the first occasion without your loved one. Be prepared for this to be a time of intense grief and sorrow, as family traditions at these times can bring painful reminders of your loss and loneliness. It is difficult to smile and pretend everything is okay when inside your heart is breaking.

It is your choice whether you wish to continue with your family traditions as they were or change things – for example: go somewhere different for your family holiday, or change the seating at the Christmas table, or open gifts at a different time. Perhaps you could start new traditions in memory of your loved one like sharing fond memories or donating to a special charity.

Difficult feelings may come and go or be mixed with happy feelings and memories too. Don’t feel you’re not coping as well as you should. It is very important to realise that you are unique and you will grieve in your own way and in your own time. There is no right or wrong way. The grief doesn’t end, but it does change and will become less intense as you adjust to a new world without your loved one.

You could:

– Plan what you want to do or do not want to do during the special occasion

– Accept that your distress is normal

– Do something to honour your loved one – plant a favourite tree, hang a special ornament on the Christmas tree…

– Recognise that the absence of your loved one will cause pain no matter what you do. It is often a time of bittersweet memories. Sharing these reminiscences with friends and family can be helpful.

– Give yourself permission to have fun and be happy in the same way as you allow yourself to mourn. Feeling happy is not a betrayal, and neither does it mean you have forgotten your loved one.

– Tell people what you might find helpful. Sometimes others are unsure of how to help.

– Take it slow and easy. Rest if you feel tired and don’t over commit yourself for that occasion.