When you’re in the midst of your grief, the holidays can bring all those feelings right to the surface, leaving you overwhelmed and struggling to cope. If you celebrate Christmas, or any other holiday, it’s not the same when there’s someone missing from the celebration.
We’re surrounded by memories and the feeling that this person should be there with us, and can be a triggering time. Maybe it’s your first holiday season after your loss, or maybe it’s been over 10 years. The length of time doesn’t make things any easier, but you do learn how to handle and cope a bit better.
Keep reading for tips and advice for coping with the holidays when grieving.
Allow yourself to feel and show your emotions.
This time of year can stir up a lot of emotions, and memories can trigger an onslaught of them.
It’s completely normal to feel and show your emotions at this time. Forcing yourself to be cheerful or upbeat for the sake of others is only going to make yourself more miserable and upset. Your emotions won’t ruin Christmas, and you’re probably not the only one feeling this way.
It’s also important to not feel guilty for experiencing joy. Often in grief, there is this intense feeling of guilt for living or surviving, and that increases when we start to get back to the things and experiences that bring joy.
Remember that your loved one would want you to be happy. We humans experience a multitude of emotions, often all in the one day, and joy can coincide with grief and sadness. You are allowed to be happy in the midst of your grief. Not allowing yourself to do so will only prolong the intensity of grief.
Find a way to honour your loved one.
Whether that’s purchasing a special ornament in memory, or putting up a more recent photo in a frame, it’s good to create a new tradition as a way of keeping your loved one close to you, even though they’re no longer there.
Try cooking their famous or favourite recipe, or still hanging their Christmas stocking up. You could even buy yourself something that they would have got you as a present, or buy them something they would have loved. Keep their memory and love alive in a way that feels personal to your relationship with them.
Accept that the holiday will never quite feel the same without them.
When someone dies, not only do you grieve them, but you also grieve any plans or experiences in the future, where they won’t be there. Christmas is one of these events, and part of the joy is sharing the memories with friends and family. But without them, Christmas will never quite feel the same.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be joy and laughter and incredible memories created in the years to come, but you’ll always feel the lack of presence of that person missing.
Trying to recreate old memories and experiences might just be too much to handle, as if you’re expecting the person you’ve lost to walk through the door
Talk about how you’re feeling and set your boundaries.
The lead up to Christmas can be tiring on the best of days, and grief makes that so much worse. The grief can feel present, making you feel really heavy and exhausted trying to keep up with everyone.
Talking about how you’re feeling is often uncomfortable, but if the people around you are also grieving, chances are they’re experiencing a lot of the same things you are. Letting loved ones know how you’re feeling not only allows the burden of grief to be shared, and therefore reduced, but it also helps you connect with each other.
You can also share how much or how little you’re able to take on during the festive season. Setting boundaries means your loved ones can mitigate their expectations of you, and you of them. These boundaries might be wanting more alone time, or forgoing bigger celebrations for more intimate gatherings.
Don’t feel pressured to celebrate on Christmas Day.
Some people often talk about anticipating Christmas ends up being worse than the day itself. Despite that, don’t feel pressured to enjoy or celebrate the holiday if you're not up to it.
Give yourself full permission to do whatever you want, or what is best for your grief. Whether that’s checking out, going to have a nap, removing yourself from your family for a little while, not trying to put on a brave face. It could be spending the day alone, or getting away on a holiday, or gathering with immediate family, you don’t have to acknowledge Christmas if it feels too painful.
Getting through the first Christmas, or any special holiday, is always the hardest. But once you’re through it, be proud that you did it. And for years on, you’ll be more prepared to get through the day. It doesn’t get easier, but you’ll be better equipped to handle it.
Whatever you decide to do on Christmas Day, be sure to include something that’s taking care of you. And if being alone is what you want, spend at least a little bit of time with people, even if it’s a short phone call or just an hour of company.
Allow yourself to grieve. But also allow yourself to feel the joy that each day can bring.
At Bare, we're always here for you. Head to our Grief Resources for videos and articles to support you during this time. Below are more Christmas grief articles for you.