Christmas can be an incredibly difficult period for those who have been bereaved. Adverts, television programmes, and even Christmas music which emphasise love and togetherness around the Christmas tree can really put the boot in if you’re aching with the grief of bereavement.

Christmas is a time of heightened feeling, laden with memories for many of us. Reactions to bereavement differ from person to person. For some grieving people, Christmas can be a very joyful time, in which happy times with lost loved ones can be fondly remembered. But this isn’t always the case. If you’re worried that you’re going to be struggling with grief this Christmas – no matter how long ago your bereavement was – here is some advice on coping with bereavement at Christmas:

SHOULD YOU CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS AFTER A BEREAVEMENT?

The way people treat Christmas following a bereavement differs a lot. Some people worry that it is disrespectful to celebrate a festival like Christmas while mourning, while others think that following the traditions in which the deceased once participated is a good way to honour their memory. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to celebrate Christmas (or not!) after a bereavement. You must do what feels right for yourself and your family. However, it is important not to torture or ‘punish’ yourself by deliberately shunning much-loved festivities (or vice versa).

If you are spending Christmas with other bereaved family members, do be sensitive to the fact that their grief and your grief may be occurring in very different ways. It’s not uncommon for bereaved families to come into conflict over the Christmas period, as family members may differ in their idea of how to respect the deceased during this time. Some may take objection to celebrating Christmas at all, while others may try hard to emphasise the positives of the season. Often, some family members wish to stick rigidly to established festive rituals and routines which others feel will bring up painful memories. If your mode of dealing with Christmas during this time differs from that of your loved ones, do be aware that nobody is trying to disrespect the deceased or to minimise their loss – they’re simply coping with that loss in a different way. Everyone’s grief is valid. If you're struggling to communicate with your grieving loved ones during this time, a counsellor may be able to help.

HOW CAN YOU MANAGE YOUR GRIEF AT CHRISTMAS?

• Don’t wrestle with Christmas pressures. There’s an intense amount of pressure around Christmas - to do certain things, buy certain things, be with certain people. This pressure can be difficult even for those who are not struggling with grief. Don’t cave to any pressures you do not feel will be good for you. If you want to stay home on your own and have a quiet day, you do that. If you’d rather throw a big party for the whole family, you do that, too. But don’t feel that you HAVE to do anything.

• Practise self-care. Be kind to yourself. This is not the same as indulging your every whim (although a bit of self-indulgence can help!). It means following a lifestyle which works well for your physical and mental health. Try to keep your sleep patterns regular, eat healthily, and take some exercise every now and again. Christmas can disrupt normal lifestyles and routines significantly, so make a point of taking extra care of yourself during this period.

• Remember that you are not alone. A great many people have to struggle with the memories of their loved ones’ passing around this time. Even those who have not lost loved ones close to Christmas will undoubtedly be remembering those who used to join them for Christmas dinner but have since passed on. While it may seem as though everyone else is enjoying a happy time surrounded by perfect, loving families, the truth is that almost everyone will be sparing a thought for absent loved ones during this time.

LONELINESS AT CHRISTMAS AFTER A BEREAVEMENT

If bereavement has left you alone at Christmas, we understand that this can be very hard. Loneliness is a difficult and dangerous thing at the best of times, but it feels particularly brutal at Christmas.

If you are going to be alone for Christmas, and would rather not be, there are options open to you. People or organisations in your local community may be opening their doors for Christmas meals and events. If you are not sure where to look for these, contact Community Christmas, who may be able to help. If you have loved ones but cannot reach them physically for Christmas, a phone call or even a simple card can make the world of difference. Do not be afraid to reach out and ask for company and support. This is the season of goodwill, after all, and people can be very generous with their time and their homes.

Of course, the option of counselling around Christmas is always available to you, should you feel the need.

HOW CAN COUNSELLING HELP WITH GRIEF AND LOSS AT CHRISTMAS?

If you’re worried about grief and loss at Christmas, it can be helpful to speak with an accredited counsellor. Your counsellor will help you to work through your memories, your feelings, and your worries in a safe and supportive way. They may also provide you with strategies which will make the festive period an easier and perhaps even a happier time for you moving forward. Many people find that, as the years pass, Christmas transitions from a time marred by the pain of bereavement to a time of fond reflection, during which happy memories of lost loved ones can be shared and treasured. This transition can be a long process, but counselling from an accredited therapist with whom you have a good rapport can really help you to move this process along.

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