Managing your first Christmas after loss

The first Christmas after the death of a loved one is a particularly difficult time. Here, grief expert Lianna Champ offers her advice on coping with the festive season.

The first Christmas after loss

widow coping with grief at christmas

The first in everything we do after the death of a loved one can feel like an impossible hurdle, so Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries must be planned for.

Christmas is such a difficult time to navigate, as the run-up to it is so intense and there are reminders everywhere of celebrations and family coming together. Seeing people so happy can make you feel even lonelier in your grief and you may want to press the stop button, but you can’t. There are others who depend on you and have expectations of you and maybe they have no idea how much emotional pain you are feeling at this time.

Everything has changed yet the world just carries on as normal. But for those coping with a loss, there is no "normal". Our lives have changed and so have we. We must force ourselves to think about things that might help us to cope even though the pain may be more than we can bear.

 

Preparation is key

preparing for a first Christmas after loss walking and reflecting

Trying to do things the same and keep the traditions shared with our loved one can make us feel even less like celebrating Christmas at all. So, we should try something new and think of new traditions we can incorporate.

By doing things differently, we’re making ourselves feel different and therefore we won’t have the same memory joggers. Old rituals can be hard to let go of and maybe we can feel that this will take us further away from our loved one. But the world keeps turning and we have to accept change when change happens. We also have a duty to those we love, to carry on. We have to try and concentrate on new things so that we can begin to create positive energy.

"Old rituals can be hard to let go of"

Be prepared for moments where your grief will hit you like a wave from behind. The intensity of our grief ebbs and flows so don’t berate yourself when you have your happy moments (which you will)—this is perfectly healthy and normal.

There will be times when you get caught up in the act of living in the present moment and let go of the memory. Then you will remember and return to grieving again. This is normal. This is living after loss. The intensity will come and go and you will shift and change along the way.

 

Some coping strategies to consider:

lighting a memory candle can help cope with first christmas after loss

  • Have a memory Christmas tree—hang special mementoes, photos and memories on its branches.
  • Cook a favourite meal and share with loved ones, taking turns to share your favourite memories of the person.
  • Go for a walk in the fresh air—we don’t just work through our grief emotionally, but physically too.
  • Think of a gift your loved one would buy for you, and buy it for yourself. This will become something you will cherish.
  • Light a memory candle.
  • If you have children, let them know they can still enjoy Christmas and that there will be some parts that they will find hard.

 

Here are some self-care tips:

make time for journaling or reflection during your first christmas after loss

  • Have a plan in place in case you find yourself really struggling—whether it’s writing in a journal or having a designated person you can talk to.
  • Be with the people you love, even if you want to hide under the covers.
  • It’s OK if you feel yourself sinking, to have some time on your own but be wary of withdrawing into yourself.
  • Watch out for short term relievers such as alcohol and junk food.
  • If you feel yourself panicking, try breathing slowly—close your eyes and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. This will help to bring calm.
  • Have some ground rules for the day itself i.e. ask others not to make a fuss of you if you cry or need some time alone.

 

Thoughts for the year ahead

speak to someone you trust about grief at christmas time

As the end of any year approaches, we may start to think about changes we would like to make. Try and make it less about losing weight or exercising more and make a commitment to yourself, to tend to yourself emotionally.

Sharing our feelings is one of the best things we can do. Make it your resolution to find someone you trust who will let you offload in peace. This helps to stop us from isolating ourselves with our pain and keeps us connected with those in our lives.

Accepting that Christmas won’t be easy will make you appreciate the little snatches of happiness.

 

Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience in grief counselling and funeral care and is author of practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ

Read more: How to sleep alone after loss

Read more: Handling finances after bereavement 

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