Dealing with grief during the holidays
Christmas is a happy time. A time to rejoice, a time to be thankful, a time to give and receive, and to spend with family friends
and loved ones. They may be people we see regularly, or Christmas may be one of the few times we get together.
However, if you’re bereaved and struggling to cope with grief, then Christmas can be a very difficult time. This may be the
first Christmas you have spent without the person, or they have died many years ago. Either way, it can still be a very
painful time. I’m sure most of us wouldn’t begrudge anyone having a happy time at Christmas. But it can be hard to get
away from it at times. Just seeing others enjoy the happiness of giving and receiving or just being with loved ones at
Christmas, can make the pain and suffering so much harder to bear. The loss and emptiness can be felt so much more
acutely, and the prospect of Christmas can become overwhelming. These tips may help to give you some ideas on getting
through the festive season.
‘Shoulds’ and ‘musts’. It’s good to remember that there is no right or wrong way to cope with grief. There is nothing to
say that you should do a particular thing or behave in a certain way. Each person deals with grief in very different ways.
Each person deals with individual losses in very different ways too, and that depends on many factors
a. The space that person occupied in their life.
b. The relationship they had with that person.
c. The way in which the person died
d. The ability (or lack of it) to spend time honouring and remembering that person’s life. The lack of being
able to do this can have a profound effect on healing some of the grief
Keep old traditions. Some families find that keeping traditions alive help to honour the person. Maybe you attended a
midnight service together or had a special Christmas eve or Christmas morning tradition. Whilst continuing with family
traditions can help keep an emotional connection to your loved one. It will also bring some sadness. That’s to be expected
and it’s ok to feel sad and have tears, as it’s all part of the process of healing.
Create new traditions. Some people find greater comfort in making new traditions. Maybe a visit to a graveside or
place that was special to that person. Some people write letters or create videos, and this can help to keep that emotional
bond with the person. It can also help us to be connected to our emotions regarding how we feel about the person. Again,
these things will no doubt bring up feelings of sadness and tears that’s OK and to be expected.
Try to avoid media. TV ads, radio, magazines and social media bring us constant reminders that we are nearing the festive
season, and it seems to start earlier every year. You may want to give the Christmas movies a miss. Instead watch reruns of
your favourite series or movies, whatever your genre. Spend some time listening to your own tunes on your phone tablet
or Alexa and avoid the overplay of Christmas tunes on the radio.
Cancel Christmas. If this is the first year without someone special, you may wish not to celebrate Christmas at all and
that’s OK too. Let friends and family know that you don't feel up to it, and you would rather spend time alone. There isn’t a right way or one way to manage our feelings. We all have different ideas about honouring a loved one’s death, and this
can sometimes lead to friction within families. We all need different things. So, it’s good to be sensitive to other people’s
needs, while making sure that you do what feels right for you. Many people will be well-meaning with advice on do’s and
don’ts but go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t agree to it.
Have a balance. People often say that in hindsight they were glad that they agreed to spend some time with family or
friends. This can sometimes lessen the emptiness, especially if there are children around. There is no doubt that pushing
yourself a little to spend some time with family or friends can help. You may wish to spend some time on your own too and
if this feels right for you, as it’s all about balance.
Volunteer. You may wish to gift your time at Christmas to a worthy cause, your local soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
Or perhaps a charity or a cause that the deceased was interested in or supported by. Why not check out our latest volunteering opportunities at Ardgowan Hospice?
Talk, Talk, Talk. Find a listening ear, a friend, a close family member, or a colleague. We all have a friend who gives great
advice, one who makes us laugh just by being their funny self, or one who mesmerises us with all the latest
gossip. You may be lucky to have all those people on hand. Most of us and hopefully you too, will have that one person
who listens and makes us feel heard. So, choose them to talk to and tell them why. They are worth their weight in
gold. If you feel that you can’t reach out to a loved one, why not find company by joining in with events in your local community? If you feel ready to, we would love to have you at our Light Up a Life service which this year (2023) will be on Sunday 3rd of December at Westburn Church, Greenock, from 4pm.
Don’t feel guilty. if you do manage to do something fun or enjoy yourself with family or friends, try not to feel guilty.
People often say they remember the first time they really laughed or enjoyed themselves after a bereavement. Then they
felt instantly guilty that they shouldn’t be feeling happy, that they had no right to. It’s a perfectly normal reaction, and you are not alone in feeling like this. Remember that you do have every right to feel joy and happiness. None of our loved ones,
alive or dead, would begrudge us this. So try to keep at bay any expectations of how you are going to feel. Just let your
feelings be what they are, and don’t suppress them. It’s ok not to be ok, and it’s ok to find that maybe it wasn’t as bad as
you had anticipated it was going to be.
Be prepared. If your situation is such that you don’t have a lot of choice but to celebrate Christmas even if you don’t
want to, then be prepared. This might be buying gifts as far in advance as possible. Food prep and other shopping too. Or
draft in whatever friends and family you can to support you in both practical and emotional ways. You may have children
and have no option but to do Christmas, and you may want to as this helps keep some normality for them. Grief for
children can be very different from adults, as they very much live in the moment. In some ways this can be a blessing. They
may swing between having periods of upset and sadness, but very quickly revert back to feeling ok. The younger they are
the less likely they are to grieve for long periods about the past or worry about the future. It can help to have them
involved in traditions old and new, as this can help them to process their own grief.
Hopefully, some of the above tips might help a little in seeing you through the festive season. It is also important to
remember that the past few years have been tough. Due to COVID, so many people struggled with additional grief, as they
were unable to do so many of the normal things that help us grieve. For those of you who were bereaved during COVID.
You may have been unable to attend funerals, or been unable to be with a loved one who was dying. Or be close to or hug
and share their grief with family and friends. Or maybe you were unable to spend their last Christmas together. For the
bereaved and the grieving, it may make their feelings of loss more acute. So, if this is you, then please be kind to yourself
and put your own needs first if you can. If this is someone you know, then please reach out to them to let them know that
you are there for them. Whatever your Christmas holds for you we hope it’s a peaceful one.