Whether this is your first Christmas without your loved one, or they died some years ago, the festive period can be particularly difficult after bereavement. There will be an empty chair, and that grief is very real.
It’s hard enough to cope with the emotional trauma, let alone everything else that this time of year brings. Often, the practical preparations and decisions feel very hard for people who are grieving. How will you manage the cooking, the decorations, the shopping, the socialising and the expectations of others?
Remember, it’s important to take care of yourself. Following a death, it’s common to feel a sense of apathy towards things that used to bring joy. This might mean you feel differently about Christmas traditions or find them a trigger for grief. It’s okay to do things differently – and to ask for help.
Here are some suggestions that may make the upcoming festive season a little easier to bare.
The lead up to Christmas
The anticipation of the first Christmas after a loved one has died can be very difficult. And feeling out of touch with rituals that you have always enjoyed can feel like a secondary loss as well. Grief can change the way life looks and feels. You are not being a ‘grinch’, you are coping with immense loss after a very difficult time. But many people afterwards that the anticipation was far worse than the day itself.
Sending Christmas cards, particularly that first Christmas, can be very difficult. It can be very painful to leave your loved one’s name off the card, and equally painful to receive cards addressed just to you. You will find that there is no expectation from others that you need to send out cards if you don’t want to.
If you’re worried about this, consider asking another member of the family or a close friend to spread the word about your wishes, for example that you won’t be sending cards this year, and would prefer not to receive them. Chances are people will be pleased to have a chance to support you in the way you prefer at such a difficult time.
Sometimes it can be things which most represent the excitement and hope of Christmas that hit the hardest when someone we love has died. For some people, this is getting the Christmas decorations up. Particularly for your first Christmas without your loved one, you just might not be in the mood – and that’s okay.
Parties and family gatherings may feel too much when you’re just trying to get through each day, particularly if this is your first Christmas without your loved one.
Think through what expectations there are around your time and don’t be afraid to opt out of anything that you feel will be especially upsetting or tiring for you. People will understand that you have limited energy.
Lots of people want to keep their Christmas traditions going as much as possible. But it’s worth thinking about the pressure that could put you under, and whether you could ask for more help.
The day itself
Remember, it’s only you who can say what’s going to feel most ‘right’ to you on the day. You might prefer to be alone, to connect with a select few, or to talk to as many people as possible. There is no right or wrong. It’s also possible to appreciate those around you and still mourn all that you have lost.
You might prefer to keep the traditions as close to normal as you can, or to not celebrate at all – and that’s okay. People will understand and respect your wishes. It may help to prepare them in advance if you’re concerned about feeling pressure.
If you have people around you who normally rely on you making an effort, ask for help and share the work, or have a conversation with them about how you’re feeling so you can consider alternative options.
Just another day
It’s absolutely fine to opt out of celebrations if you don’t feel like it. You have permission to change your mind about plans, even at the last minute, people will understand. Feel free to take breaks or leave early, whatever makes you feel most comfortable.
Many of us will have the big day itself as the focus for what we need to get through. But sometimes people who are bereaved often find the first New Year without their loved one far harder than Christmas. Stepping into a new year without them, or feeling that you’re leaving them behind, can be really tough.
Acknowledging that this time of year can be hard, that you need to be kind to yourself, and that these feelings are to be expected and are totally normal can be a helpful part of prepping your first Christmas without someone.
If you need emotional support or practical information about coping with grief, we’re here to help over the festive period as always. You can call us on 0800 0025 400 to speak to a trained member of the team or use our online chat service which operates from 6pm-9pm, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.