Christmas holds traditions for many people, just as other holidays do. Grief around Christmas can come up for a variety of reasons, and it can do so the first year someone goes through Christmas without their loved one, or for the rest of their lives. Grief, after all, doesn’t come in stages, instead, it is cyclical. Each of us grieves in our own way, and while Christmas can bring death to the forefront, it is a good opportunity to educate and often remind others on what loss and grief really look like.
Seek help if you are triggered
Whatever happens this Christmas, whether you’re triggered or not, as always, remember that a griever has permission to do whatever feels right to them.
It can be helpful to find a trusted friend, support group, on-line forum or counselor/therapist who can help talk you through it all. Sharing your feelings and processing emotions that are triggered by Christmas can help you move towards dealing with your loss. It is understandable why you may wish that the month of December never existed.
You may wish to read Part One of my blog on Christmas and Grief.
You may even feel betrayed by those around you. They may not seem to understand how hurtful their enthusiastic celebration of Christmas can be. Although this time can be extremely difficult, others haven’t experienced what you have. Most people see Christmas as a chance to dress up in ugly sweaters or wear Santa hats. Try to understand that most people are simply oblivious to the pain you feel.
Participation or non-participation?
The best advice is to reflect on your current situation and to do what feels right for you. It is your and only your decision. If you want to, or more importantly need to, skip Christmas this year, do it. Don’t feel guilty that you may have participated last year, but just feel unable to participate this year or choose to participate at a modified level. If your friends or your family ask you to participate in something you are not quite ready for be open and honest with your thoughts and self-advocate.
If you want to participate, find ways to continue the legacy of your loved one. Perhaps this will be through old traditions or perhaps you will incorporate some new traditions.
Mourning the loss of a child
Children and teenagers are often the biggest celebraters of Christmas, and when you have a child pass away, that first Christmas, and all subsequent ones, can be incredibly hard. If your loved one was a child when they died, then you may also be grieving losses related to holidays they won’t get to celebrate and experiences you won’t get to share with them. For example, you might be consumed with thoughts about how old they would be and who or what they would want as presents.
Mourning the loss of traditions
Often, there is a parent/relative who did a lot during the holiday and is no longer with us. Our parents/relatives are the ones who so often teach us the tradition of Christmas and help us build our own rituals around it. Christmas is a tradition for those who celebrate it. Traditions are formed through repetition. This makes Christmas, like Thanksgiving, Halloween, and other holidays, a difficult time –– whether it’s the first year or many years later. If one parent especially enjoyed Christmas, this time of year can be so topsy-turvy because of the shared memories.
The importance of holding onto memories
Continue any Christmas traditions to honor your loved one such as decorating the house, putting up a tree, singing carols, going to specific church services, watching parades, attending craft shows or community theatre produtions driving around the neighbourhood admiring the decorated houses, making gingerbread houses or other holiday treats, writing Christmas cards and letters, taking holiday photos for cards, etc. Just be aware of your triggers (if any) and plan accordingly. After all, our grief is due to their absence, but their life was real and important.
B. Hold a special graveside memorial service
This will honor the person who died and provide an opportunity for those to connect with their feelings. In this memorial service you might want to sing a few special holiday songs, read a few spiritual passages or poems, place flowers on or near the headstone (if permitted) or hold a minute of silence.
C. Further suggestions
At home you might want to light a candle in your loved one’s memory, set a place for them at the table (and a framed picture of them on the chair), create a photographic slideshow, or buy a special angel ornament for the tree. You might wish to contact your faith-based leaders to arrange to have a special Mass or religious service held in the deceased person's memory.
How can friends and family help the mourners?
For friends and family of those who are grieving, just be there for them. Ask them about how they are feeling or sit with them if they don’t want to talk but want emotional support. The best way to help anyone who is grieving is to allow them to talk about the person who has passed away. This can feel uncomfortable for those who aren’t grieving. The people who are grieving are already thinking about that person. They often just need reassurance that it is permissible and encouraged to continue to dialogue.
In conclusion, remember that grief is individual. For the sake of our own mental health, it is an opportunity to educate others on what loss and grief really look like as a daily reality.