Coping with Bereavement at Christmas

The Christmas focus on family and friends can be especially hard for those of us dealing with the loss of a loved one.

Bereavement in ‘normal’ times can feel overwhelming, but with the stark reality of the ongoing pandemic, losing someone to Covid-19 might feel particularly poignant.

But there are things that can be done to help you negotiate this period – when you may feel like you’re the only one not enjoying the season’s usual festive cheer.

Action Mental Health’s friends at Cruse have provided a very useful guide to help people wade through the festive period, if it’s tainted by bereavement, whether recent or even many years ago.

How to cope with grief at Christmas – by Cruse Bereavement Care (source: Covid Wellbeing NI)

We know that facing Christmas alone, or whilst grieving, can be a daunting prospect. This year, the second Christmas since the onset of Covid-19 and the continuing uncertainty the pandemic has brought, means this festive season could be considerably more difficult. Whether you were bereaved since the start of the pandemic or many years before, residual Covid restrictions could still place obstacles in the way of getting together with friends and family and people in your support network. The latest Omicron variant of the virus has potentially added another layer of concerns at a time when people hoped Christmas 2021 would be much easier than last year. As a result, it is going to be more important than ever to try and look after yourself and work out the best ways to cope.

Here are some practical ways to cope with the loss of a loved one over Christmas.

1. Consider different ways of celebrating

One of the things that can help can be to spend some time trying to work out, well in advance, which arrangements will best suit your needs and the needs of others who share your loss. Some bereaved people find that they do not wish to celebrate Christmas at all, whilst some find that simply maintaining their routine and celebrating as normal is the best tribute they can pay their loved one. It may feel important to make a special effort to remember the person who has died. This can be as simple as ‘speaking’ to the person, silently or out loud, or it may involve visiting their grave, or a place that was special to them. These can be things that we do alone, or with friends or family. You may have photos or particular memories which you treasure; sharing these with others may be something that brings you together.

2. Accept that others may have different ways of mourning

We know that people remember and mourn in different ways. Conflict within a family can sometimes arise when we have expectations of how others should grieve, so try to be sensitive to others’ needs, and to talk openly about what will be best for you.

3. Try to maintain a routine

The Christmas period may mean that your normal routine is disrupted, and this can make it easier to forget to look after yourself. Maintaining regular patterns of sleeping and eating are small things that can make a difference. Seeing friends or family, or even volunteering for the day, can also help.

4. Go easy on the drink

It’s tempting to drink more on festive occasions, and it can feel like a drink might help numb any difficult feelings. But it’s important to remember that using alcohol to escape the pain of loss provides only very temporary relief. If you find you’re relying heavily on drinking alcohol, consider taking some drink free days. You can also find advice from Drink Aware on how to reduce your alcohol consumption.

5. Remember the happy times

Even many years after someone dies Christmas can be a difficult, intensely emotional time when we need to look after ourselves and those around us. But as time passes, special occasions like Christmas can help us remember happy memories of good times shared in the past. 

6. Skip the Christmas films

It can be tough when you are bombarded by images of people enjoying happy family times. If it’s getting too much, consider taking a break from the Christmas TV and social media and maybe take a walk or get some fresh air in any way you can.

7. Talk to someone

If you’re struggling to deal with the grieving process over Christmas, you can call the Cruse National Helpline on 0808 808 1677, see here for opening hours. Alternatively you can message a trained grief counsellor using our CruseChat service 9am – 9pm Monday – Friday.

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