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Grief at Christmas

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“Christmas Grief” by Christy McMillan

I know the lights upon your tree, won’t seem so bright this year

And carols that the children sing, you may not want to hear

The holidays bring back the pangs, of grief within your heart

And once again you’ll question why, your loved one had to part

We are gifted loved ones, but they leave us all too soon

Then Christmas seems to reinforce, your world is out of tune

Hold tight to friends and family, they’ll shelter you with love

Through them you’ll sense your loved one’s heart, from their resting place above.


For some of you this will be your first Christmas without one of your loved ones.

If you struggle with grief at Christmas time, this is for you.

It is a difficult time especially if that person was one who you shared all or many of your Christmases with; someone who was a special part of your festive time. They have left a hole that will never again be filled. Their place may be taken by someone new but no one else can ever fill that gap in the same way.

I trust that, being very close to Christmas Day, you have given thought to how you will negotiate all the activities of the day and how you will navigate all the thoughts and feelings that are beginning to flood your mind.

Here’s a few suggestions –

  1. Be kind to yourself. If you think it is just too much to face people on the day, don’t plan to do so. You may need to take this Christmas off from celebration. On the other hand, there may be close family and/or friends who know, understand and love you who you can trust with your raw feelings and emotions. Spend as much time as you can with them and accept the healing and cathartic experiences that are a possibility.
  2. There will be particular times or happenings that you know you will struggle with. Maybe your loved one had certain roles or tasks throughout the day that they had made their own. Give that some thought and work out a strategy as to how you may be able to prepare yourself for the inevitable rush of emotions that will come when those times arrive. Place yourself in a position, emotionally and physically, where you will be better able to handle the situation, hopefully with someone close who will understand.
  3. It is probably not a good idea to completely isolate yourself for the day. Be prepared to push yourself a little. Be honest with your family and friends with how you are feeling and coping.
  4. Do something that you know you will enjoy. Get out of the house, even if it is to go for a walk or a drive to somewhere you love being. Allow yourself to feel the weight of your emotions, even just a little, don’t be afraid to let them out. Lifeline and other organisations offer telephone counselling services all year round and it may just be enough for you to give them a call and tell the person on the end of the line just how you are feeling and your fears. They are trained to listen and be gentle. And they may even be able to offer something to help you in your struggle.
  5. Christmas is a time of memories. You have created so many of them throughout your life of Christmases gone by. Maybe now is the time to fashion some new ones. Consider creating a space for the one you have lost in some way. Perhaps you can think of something that represents their presence or contribution to past Christmases that you could place as a special memento in their honour; their favourite Christmas hat, their wine glass or fresh new potatoes like dad always supplied. Even a simple verbal acknowledgement of their absence this year and the way you will miss them is healing. I have had the moving experience of having everyone who would like to, share what they are feeling, missing or remembering. Maybe having a candle burning as a symbol of their presence is enough.
  6. Another idea I have heard of is to have an empty seat at the table, a powerful symbol of your loved one who is absent.

Whatever you choose to do try to make some tangible acknowledgement of the deep loss you are feeling. The externalising of the turmoil within is a healing experience. Eventually, you will yourself experiencing brief moments where you may find yourself laughing or smiling and those moments will become more frequent. Your will remember the past with fondness and sadness and the fondness will grow stronger. Death doesn’t stop for holidays, but it will not always haunt you either. What you need this year may be different to what you needed last year and what you will feel like next year. That is part of forming new traditions while walking the path of a healthy bereavement.

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