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Coping with Christmas after a bereavement

Milestone birthdays, anniversaries and religious occasions all highlight the loss of a loved one, but perhaps none more so than Christmas.

Aside from inescapable reminders of the season, the overriding expectation of the celebration is that it should be spent with those most important to us.

So what does Christmas mean for people who are without the ones they held dear?

Mary Anne is a bereavement volunteer with charity Cruse Bereavement Care Thames Valley Berkshire (CBC) which supports about 600 clients a year who are suffering with a loss.

She said: “The stereotypical view is that it’s a time when people should come together and if you’ve got no one to be together with, or the person that you typically were closest to isn’t there any more, then it can be a very lonely time.”

The ‘firsts’ of special anniversaries and milestones, like Christmas, can also be especially difficult.

Mary Anne said: “People quite often focus on the first Christmas and think ‘if I can just get through the first it will be better next time’ – and sometimes that’s true but sometimes it isn’t and people get caught unawares by that.”

As well as experiencing ‘virtually any emotion you can name’, grief can impact people in a number of other ways, but Mary Anne says ‘whatever you’re feeling is normal, there is no standard way to grieve’.

This includes those who see death as a natural part of life and grieving as a natural process after somebody’s died.

“There are lots of people who manage that process well with themselves and their own support structures,” she said.

Despite society’s perception of what must be the most painful person to lose, or the most upsetting way to lose them, for CBC ‘there is no hierarchy of death’.

Mary Anne said: “We just look at everybody individually, if it’s something that you are struggling with and you want support, and we think we can support you through what’s happening for you, then that’s all that matters to us.”

CBC provides one-to-one support for an average of six sessions, and bereavement support groups for groups of six to 10 clients for a six week programme.

Many of the charity’s referrals come through the NHS, via GPs and talking therapists, but people can self-refer.

Mary Anne said: “We get phone calls from people who have lost somebody the week before, or that week, or a few days before right up to 20 years later sometimes.”

No matter when someone might have suffered a bereavement, or be grieving, Mary Anne does offer some hope.

She said: “Quite often what people find is that grief stays the same, but what you do, is you find a way of growing a new life around it.

“There will be times when you know you hear a piece of music or you go to a particular place when you reconnect with that, and it feels as raw and as difficult as it did on the first day, but actually, most of the time you found a way of building a new life around it.”

She added: “It isn’t about forgetting the person, it’s about finding a way of carrying them with you in a new way in your life, of holding them in your heart, in your mind, and being able to live a life that will be different – but will be okay.”

To find out more about CBC TVB go to tinyurl.com/ v3y9nmt

To call the help line which is open Monday-Friday 9.30-5pm, with extended hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings to 8pm, call 0808 808 1677.​


Tips for how to cope with loss over the Christmas period.

  • Be kind to yourself – don’t get sucked into your own or others expectations with what you ‘should’ be doing –  ‘I should still have everybody over for Christmas’ or ‘I should put up the tree’. Do what you feel you can manage.
  • Be open – sometimes we think people will know how we feel, but they don’t unless we tell them. Let those around you know what you need and how you are feeling.
  • Be sensitive to others – a death in a family will often impact a number of people who will all grieve in their own way. Try to keep this in mind and be accepting that this might be the case.  
  • Make a plan but be flexible about it – Christmas and a lack of routine can make people feel anxious. Think about what you and your family and friends need, come up with a plan but do not be rigid about it – because that will create another source of pressure.
  • Time for yourself – grieving is tiring, emotions take-up energy, so any plan you make, include time for yourself. Also make things easy for yourself where you can such as buying things in instead of making everything from scratch.
  • Self-care – try to get enough sleep, exercise and fresh air, and try to avoid too much alcohol and food as a source of comfort. This only provides comfort in the short term.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help or say no – take some time for self-reflection.

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