Grief has no defined time limit, however, the first year is likely to be the most acute. Passing each first milestone without your loved one will be extremely difficult, and the first Christmas is no exception. Christmas is typically steeped in tradition for most families and celebrating without the person that has died may seem unfeasible. Here we look at ways to cope with the first Christmas after losing a loved one, providing ideas on how to manage the day itself and the entire festive period.
Grieving During the Festive Period
Coping with grief at any time is difficult however, during special occasions such as Christmas these feelings can be heightened; this applies to the first Christmas and every subsequent one, but the first will always be the hardest. You may now be facing your first Christmas alone following the death of a husband or wife, or the first without a parent, sibling, or child. You may have family traditions that the deceased was heavily involved with and be wondering whether to go ahead with these.
Everyone grieves differently, and your feelings as you approach the festive period may differ from how you expected to feel or how others feel. It is important to spend some time considering your usual Christmas routine and how this will be affected by the loss of your loved one, and what you would like to happen instead. Well-meaning relatives or friends may want to include you within their plans however, it is important to no get swept along with their ideals. Planning for the big day, and the entire festive period is the best strategy to coping with your first Christmas after the loss of a loved one.
Planning For Christmas While Grieving
A first Christmas without your loved one is inevitable, taking the time to plan may help you to cope with the entire period in the best way possible. Things to consider include:
- Do you want to celebrate?
- Remembering your loved one
Is Celebrating Christmas Essential?
Deciding whether you want to celebrate Christmas at all is the first step, and no it isn’t essential. You may be invited to spend the day with family or friends, consider these offers, and make your own decision. If you feel as though a day spent with others would be nice, go ahead, there is no need to feel guilty, it is likely that your loved one would want you to have an enjoyable day. However, if you aren’t ready that is ok too.
If you decide not to celebrate Christmas it may be advisable to make alternative arrangements to avoid spending the day alone and feeling down. You could consider volunteering your time at a homeless shelter, or with an organisation that provides a hot meal for people. Giving back to others can be the perfect option if you don’t want to celebrate the day yourself.
What about Christmas Traditions?
You’ve decided to celebrate Christmas, so it is time to consider the logistics. Most families have their own Christmas traditions, and the death of a loved one may raise questions over whether those should continue or not. Some people like to continue with the traditions in honour of their loved one, others like to start a new set of traditions, or you may like to do both. Again, planning is key, consider how you would like the day to unfold, talk to those around you about what you would and would not like, to ensure that the day runs smoothly and there are no surprises that may inadvertently cause upset.
Celebrating Your Loved Ones Memory
There are many ways to remember the deceased at Christmas. You may prefer to celebrate their life with family or friends or take a private moment for reflection. Some options for remembering your loved one during the festive period include:
- Taking a wreath to their grave
- Laying a place for them at the table
- Saying a prayer or other memorial
- Attending a service of remembrance
- Cooking their favourite festive food
- Playing their favourite music
- Watching their favourite Christmas movie
Support for Grief at Christmas
In the UK, we too often hide our feelings to protect those of others. This may cause us to spend too much time alone due to not wanting to burden our family or friends with our grief. Often, those closest to us want to offer support, and taking it can help us cope with our grief. Talking to family and friends about our loved one and sharing memories of Christmas past is a helpful way of working through our thoughts and feelings and processing grief.
Alternatively, you may prefer to seek out a specialist grief counselling service. Steve can put you in touch with a grief counsellor if you are unsure of where to turn, contact him for further information. Alternatively, your GP can refer you to a local service, and if you are struggling a charity such as Cruse that offers bereavement support has a helpline that you call.